Did you get your flu shot this year?
A recent study performed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that this year’s flu vaccination only delivered about 23 to 25 percent in vaccination effectiveness (VE).
Stated in a press release from the CDC, one factor that determines how well a flu vaccine works is the similarity between the flu viruses used in vaccine production and the flu viruses that are actually circulating — which was this flu season’s biggest problem.
The CDC considers this flu season to be a “moderately severe season,” but as for SUNY New Paltz students, “it hasn’t been too bad — knock on wood,” said Dr. Richard Ordway, M.D. and Director of Student Health Services on campus.
Ordway said that the big issues this year were that the mutation of the influenza A, H3N2, wasn’t a fit with the vaccine and that this strain of the flu was giving worse illnesses than that of other flu types.
Ordway said he is vaccinated and suggests that students be vaccinated each year.
“Do I believe in it enough to be vaccinated? Yes,” he said. “It really does help.”
Over the summer, the CDC picks strains that they think are going to be around, produces the vaccine and hopes they are right, according to Ordway.
“Unfortunately, once they make the wrong decision they really can’t reverse things and get a new vaccine done quick enough based on the new strains,” he said.
This is the key factor as to why nearly 75 percent of those vaccinated were still affected by the mutated version of the H3N2 strain of the virus.
Fourth-year sociology major Andy Lawson and fourth-year photography major Casey Robertson were both affected by this year’s strain, just in time to ring in the new year.
Both complained of fever, nausea and body aches. However, Lawson felt sick for about a week and a half, while Robertson was bed-ridden for about five to six days.
“The second and third days of having the flu were the worst,” Robertson said. “[The flu] is an ever-evolving virus and a vaccine can only do so much. Everyone’s reaction is different, and there’s not much to do if it’s a sickness that is constantly changing all the time.”
Lawson said that he was vaccinated this year, as he is every year, and this was the first time he has been sick since he was in middle school.
While sick in his hometown of Warwick, New York, Lawson was prescribed Tamiflu — an antiviral medication that the H3N2 strain is particularly sensitive to, according to Ordway.
Because this season’s vaccine offers reduced protection against the virus, it underscores the need for extra precaution, according to a report published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Ordway suggests that people sick with the flu should try their best to limit their contact with people for at least five days, for that is how long victims of the flu remain contagious, whether or not they start to feel better.
“The biggest reasons [students in college are so prone to getting the flu] are because they have class every day, they live in dorms or they’re in close living arrangements off campus, and if somebody gets it, their neighbor might pass it on to somebody else,” Ordway said. “It’s not inherent in the age group, it’s just the circumstances of living around a lot of other people.”
So far this year the SUNY New Paltz Student Health Center has given out 800 vaccinations, according to Ordway, and there are currently 42 vaccinations left at the center.
“It’s been a bad season just because it’s something that the flu vaccine isn’t protecting people against,” Ordway said. “Usually with the flu, we figure that there are two seasons: one as you’re going into the winter in December and extends into January, and one when you’re coming out of winter which is in the beginning of March. It’s still worthwhile getting flu shots if people desire them.”
For more information on the flu, anyone can visit the Student Health Center’s website at Newpaltz.edu/healthcenter under the Resource tab and Flu Information.
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on February 5, 2015.