Flu vaccine rates could drop, raising public health concerns (1) bloomberg law

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year’s flu shot had lower effectiveness rates compared to previous vaccines. Public health scholars, drug company executives, and others expressed concern to Bloomberg Law that the news about last year’s flu shot could lead to fewer vaccinations in the upcoming flu season, which typically runs from October to May.

Fewer people getting the vaccine is “definitely a possibility because it was widely reported how badly the flu vaccine did,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, whose specialties include infectious diseases. People already underestimate the importance of getting a flu shot, so there’s already an uphill battle for the flu vaccine.


Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said it’s now believed part of the reason the vaccine wasn’t as protective is the flu strain used to make the vaccine mutated very subtly during the development process. “We have some confidence, based on the pattern of influenza circulating now in the Southern hemisphere, that the flu strains chosen for this year’s U.S. seasonal flu vaccine should offer Americans good protection,” he said in a Sept. 27 statement. The southern hemisphere’s influenza season precedes the U.S. season.

People take a look at their past experiences, particularly recent ones, when deciding whether something is effective or good for them, he said. “It’s definitely something that’s on the forefront of people’s minds because getting a flu vaccine takes effort. And if you think it doesn’t work, why spend the effort and the time?” Baskin, who’s an assistant professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and published a study in February about increasing influenza vaccination rates through emails and other low-cost methods.

There are sizable economic costs as well to forgoing vaccinations. Vaccine-preventable diseases among adults cost the U.S. economy $8.95 billion in 2015, according to the analysis by Sachiko Ozawa, a health economist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unvaccinated individuals are responsible for 80 percent, or $7.1 billion, of those costs.

“We don’t want people to get sick because every year we have these hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, tens of thousands of deaths, and a lot of lost productivity,” Leonard Friedland told Bloomberg Law. Friedland is a vice president at GlaxoSmithKline who is the director of the pharmaceutical giant’s scientific affairs and public health program for vaccines in North America. GSK will produce about 40 million doses of an influenza vaccine this season. “Vaccination is our best tool.”

Adalja, Friedland, and Mercer all said that even if someone gets sick despite getting a flu shot, the infection will likely be less severe. More vaccinations will also prevent the spread of the flu in general, which they said is critical for more vulnerable populations such as the elderly and pregnant women. It also lowers the chances of catching pneumonia, Adalja said.

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