Denton County Living Well Magazine March/April 2016 - Page 32

Is Flu Prevention Possible? By Dr. Ron Babecoff T he mantra, “get your flu shot” is almost as common as “eat right and exercise regularly,” and it gets louder with winter fast approaching. Senior citizens in the U.S. are reminded to get vaccinated for flu, but last year, the vaccine was as low as 9% effective for older people according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year in the U.S., about 21,000 elderly people die from the flu. The question stands; why isn’t the flu vaccine protecting the people who need it the most? The Fluid Nature of Flu Flu remains a huge public health issue, and despite the fact that more people are getting vaccinated, the population is not better protected. NIH data shows vaccination rates for people 65+ increased from 30% to 67% from 1989– 1997, and remains at around 60–70% today. However, flu related mortality and hospitalization rates have continued to increase rather than decline. Currently available flu vaccines have very low effectiveness rates because there is frequently a mismatch between the flu strains included in the vaccine and the circulating strains of flu that are most dominant in a given season. It takes around six months to manufacture the vaccine and the WHO has to make a prediction on what the predominating circulating flu strain will be far in advance of the actual flu season. This “educated guess” approach of flu strain selection is ineffective: The 2014–2015 mismatch resulted in a 19% effectiveness rate for the vaccine in the general population––the lowest rate reported by the CDC in the past five years. New Data Indicates More Reasons Why The Current Vaccine May Be Less Effective in People 65+ According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 80% of people 65+ suffer from chronic illness and research