Traverse City Record-Eagle

Other Views

January 22, 2014

Another View: Don’t mess around with Influenza

Influenza — the real deal, not the viruses that people mistakenly call the flu — is nothing to trifle with. It’s beyond miserable, potentially deadly and, in most cases, preventable.

Still, most Americans won’t receive a flu vaccine, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that influenza vaccines, on average, are about 62 percent effective.

That’s less than the 70 percent to 90 percent efficacy rate the CDC estimated just a year ago, but still a far sight better than taking your chances in what is turning out to be a particularly bad flu season. So why do so many people take the risk?

The reasons are varied, complicated and differ from person to person, experts say. Some fear that the vaccine carries risks. Others are lazy. Some think the flu shot is unnecessary or won’t do any good.

Candidly, the science is complicated, which is why urban legends about risks or exposure get so much traction in the public and turn off otherwise sensible, health-conscious individuals from getting vaccinated.

Even public health officials are increasingly vocal about the need for a better flu vaccine.

Today, people need to be re-vaccinated every year against the flu. That’s because the influenza virus is constantly changing. Virologists try to predict which viruses will be in circulation in the coming season, hoping to get a good “match” between the viruses in the community and the viral strains used in the vaccine.

To their credit, they’re pretty good at it, but it’s still a hard sell to people skeptical of vaccinations and the drug industry in general. A “game-changing” vaccine would be very different.

Such a vaccine would produce immunity by including parts of the influenza virus that don’t change from year to year and which are common among many strains of virus. Such a vaccine would protect people for a decade or more.

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