(CBS Local) — U.S. health officials are bracing for a devastating flu season this winter that many people won’t even be able to ward off with their annual flu shot.
The possibility of a “flu-pocalypse” is being talked about after record numbers of patients were diagnosed with influenza in Australia, whose flu season just ended. In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), a group of infectious disease doctors say that Australia’s vaccination against the flu was only effective 10 percent of the time this year.
“What happened is, in the development of the vaccine, as we grow it in eggs, the virus itself mutated a bit, so that there was almost an accidental mismatch purely on the basis of the virus trying to adapt itself to growing in eggs,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told WTOP. “That’s what happened in Australia and it is likely that that’s what we’re going to see here.”
The doctors added that the ineffective shots had the lowest rate of success in preventing influenza A. The flu strain – also known as H3N2 – “historically is always the worse influenza,” according to Dr. Fauci and can result in severe illness and possibly death in at-risk patients. Among the most at risk for complications from the flu include seniors over 65 years old, children under age five, and pregnant women.
Australia’s 10 percent success rate is a major blow to the hopes of Americans lining up for flu shots this year. In 2016, the NEJM reports that flu shots were able to stop H3N2 34 percent of the time.
While the outlook for the U.S. flu season is grim, Dr. Fauci maintained that Americans should still take the time to get a vaccination. “Vaccines remain a valuable public health tool, and it is always better to get vaccinated than not to get vaccinated.” According to the CDC, 40,000 lives were saved by flu vaccines from 2005 to 2014.