Friday, January 26, 2018

Get Ready mailbag: Is this season’s flu shot effective?

By Sean Locke, courtesy iStockphoto
Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an email to

Does the flu shot work this year? Should I even get it?
Thanks for your question! With this flu season shaping up to be a doozy, there’s a lot of attention on vaccination. In short: Yes, you should get your flu shot. Now, the long answer.

How well the flu shot works varies from season to season. One reason is that officials try to predict way ahead of time what flu strains will be out there during flu season. Then they make a vaccine that targets those strains. But that estimate doesn’t always match up with what really happens.

 This season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that flu shot effectiveness will be about the same as last season, when it was 39 percent effective. If you’re saying “Whoa, that’s low. Should I even bother?” Again, the answer is yes.

That’s because even if the flu shot isn’t an exact match to the strains out there, getting vaccinated makes you a lot less sick if you do get the flu. Research shows that getting the shot means fewer people being hospitalized from the flu. And a study last year found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of healthy kids dying from flu by 65 percent.

(Side note: You may have heard people saying the flu shot is only 10 percent effective this year, which isn’t completely true. Research in Australia found that the flu shot used there was 10 percent effective against one particular strain, known as H3N2. It’s not known why that happened there. But again, that’s not a reason not to be vaccinated. The flu shot protects against other strains as well.)

As to whether you still can and should get your flu shot, it’s another big yes. It’s not too late. With flu so widespread right now, vaccination makes sense, even with the two weeks it takes for antibodies to take effect.

And don’t forget: Flu vaccination is about more than just you. When you get your flu shot, you’re protecting people around you. Babies, young kids, seniors and people whose immune systems are weakened from conditions like cancer or HIV are at higher risk for flu. Getting your flu shot can help keep other people around you healthy, too.

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