The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) says this flu season is getting off to a more normal start than last year’s bout. While reports of the flu are increasing, particularly in the South region of the country, so far it hasn’t been near as bad as last year when about 381,000 people were hospitalized. Last year, the flu season began earlier and by December was hitting people hard. One reason for the large numbers of cases may be because last year’s vaccine was only 51 percent effective.
Available for the first time, this year’s vaccine protects against four-strains of influenza, two viruses from the A class and two from the B class. Researchers conducted a test of the new four-strain influenza vaccine to determine how well it protected against the flu in young children.
The scientists tested the 4-strain flu vaccine in 2,379 children ages three to eight in Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Lebanon, Panama, the Philippines, Thailand and Turkey and compared their rates of flu infection to a control group of 2398 children who received a hepatitis A vaccine. The study was sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, which donated both vaccines for the trial.
Compared to the control group, the 4-strain vaccine was 55 percent effective against preventing the flu. However, the research team found that the vaccine provided other benefits that the 3-strain vaccine did not. The quadrivalent shot was 70% effective in preventing more serious cases of the flu; most of the children who did get sick after getting vaccinated only had mild symptoms. The four-strain shot also resulted in 69% fewer medical visits, 75% fewer hospitalizations, 77% fewer absences from school, and 61% fewer parent absences from work.
“The efficacy of the vaccine was higher against moderate-to-severe disease–a potentially important end point associated with the highest clinical, social, and economic burden–than against illness of any severity,” the authors conclude.
The 4-strain vaccine is available as a nasal spray or an injection.
Another recent study of about 200 children did not compare the four-strain vaccine to the traditional three-strain vaccine. Rather, it looked at how kids responded either to the four-strain vaccine or a hepatitis A vaccine, and then compared response rates for the four-strain flu vaccine to response rates for the three-strain vaccine from last year's flu season.
"The results showed that, by preventing moderate to severe influenza, vaccination achieved reductions [of 61 percent to 77 percent] in doctors' visits, hospitalizations, absences from school and parental absences from work," said study co-author Dr. Ghasson Dbaibo, at the department of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, in Lebanon.
The researchers believe the study validates that the newer 4-strain flu vaccine is more effective and offers greater protection for kids.
"They also showed an 80 percent reduction in lower respiratory tract infections, which is the most common serious outcome of influenza. Therefore, vaccination of children in this age group can help to reduce the significant burden placed on parents, doctors and hospitals every flu season," Dbaibo said.
The 4-strain vaccine is in shorter supply than the 3-strain vaccine. So, it’s recommended that those who want that vaccine for their children and themselves check with their doctor or county health department on availability. Experts say both vaccines offer more protection than no vaccine and if you do get the flu after receiving the vaccine, your symptoms will be less harsh.
Children 6 months and older can receive the flu vaccine. The standard 3-strain vaccine has a brand that is approved for 6 months old and up. Check with your physician about which 4-strain vaccine is available for children under 2 years of age. Also, children under the age of 9 may need a second dose if they’ve not received two doses since 2010. The CDC is not recommending one flu vaccine over the other, only that everyone get one.