The news that nearly 80,000 died of the flu last year ought to have citizens enraged. The further news (AARP Bulletin) that 12,163 citizens aged 65 and over died from the virus ought to have people even more enraged. Why? Because too little is being done to develop adequate flu vaccines to the task. While too many beat the drum of the rising DOW, too few are outraged by the pathetic condition of our infrastructure and the capacity to develop a more effective flu vaccine.
Yeah, I've heard over and over from the pundits and medical cognoscenti how the flu "mutates too fast year to year" to develop a good vaccine with more than 50 percent effectiveness. To which I say, 'Bullshit!' Here's a first clue: In late February, according to the AARP Bulletin, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced a major initiative to develop a new, more effective flu vaccine.
Such a so-called "universal flu vaccine" would protect people against all strains of flu instead of just a few and would be needed only once every few years instead of every year. But why has it taken so long to get to this point? Well, because we'd rather waste more money on tax cuts - cutting the government's revenue while increasing deficits - and going on military spending binges, than spending on flu vaccine research,
Weeks before the NIAID announcement, Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) called federal spending on new flu vaccines "simply not enough" and proposed $1 billion over five years for research. Now, THAT is a serious proposal, not merely posturing. But see, the (GOP-dominated) congress we have would much rather posture. In March, for example, this congress allocated a bare pittance - only $100 million for flu vaccine research - for 2018-19. This is a contemptuous joke. For comparison, the U.S. pisses way $3 billion a month for the unwinnable "war" in Afghanistan. If just one third of that wasted money had been applied toward Sen. Markey's proposal we'd have damned well had the universal flu vaccine by now. (And please note, in the year before congress had allocated only $64 m according to the Bulletin, so I guess some would say that's an improvement.)
In its best years, the flu vaccine is 60 percent effective, meaning people who actually get a flu shot are 60 percent less likely to contract the disease than those who don't get the shot. But lately that success level has been nowhere to be found. For example, as the Bulletin notes (p..33):
"The CDC projected in February that the 2017-18 vaccine was about 36 percent effective, meaning the people who got the shot were 36 percent less likely to get the flu."
But, as reported last night (NBC News), the actual effectiveness was even less, roughly 25 percent.
The Bulletin goes on:
"The CDC has not assessed the 2018-19 vaccine, but a study by Rice University predicts that the flu vaccine will have the same reduced efficacy as the vaccines used in the previous two years."
For those 65 and older, the problem of the lower effectiveness is worse because their immune systems are inherently weaker owing to age. This makes seniors even less responsive to vaccines. (For example, in 2012-13 the vaccine was only 11 percent effective for seniors while it was 49 percent effective for the overall population.)
On the positive side, there is now a high dose vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) available for those 65 and older. But the travesty here is many clinics and medical outlets have been slow to offer it because it is new and unfamiliar. According to Kathy Lofy, the state health officer in Washington, quoted in the AARP piece (p. 35):
"We had been hearing after the high dose vaccine came out that a lot of clinics weren't even buying it. Some clinics were just deciding to stick with the standard low dose vaccine."
The reason offered? The vaccine was new and there wasn't enough data about it. Never mind, Janice and I go the high dose last year and we plan to get it again this year - in fact tomorrow. (We had wanted to get the flu vaccine last week on a doctor's visit, but were informed the only option there was the standard vaccine.)
After getting the H3 N2 flu in 2014, neither wifey or I have any intention (IF we can help it) of being laid that low again. There is every chance too that the H3N2 could emerge again this year and in even more virulent form. The best advice for people? Get that flu shot irrespective of the vaccine's efficacy. Some protection is better than none at all.
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