Flu vaccine less effective against mutant strain

B.C. Centre For Disease Control says some protection still better than none, flu season may be deadlier than usual for elderly

Dr. Danuta Skowronski is an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre For Disease Control.

This year’s flu shot may prove less effective than usual because the dominant virus now circulating has mutated significantly in the months since the vaccine was devised.

The H3N2 strain – one of three targeted in this year’s flu vaccine – is thought to have changed its genetic makeup enough to possibly thwart the antibodies that the vaccine activates.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, is still recommending the vaccine, particularly for the elderly, the chronically ill and those with compromised immune systems.

“It’s not a perfect match,” she said. “But for the high risk, even an imperfectly matched vaccine is going to give cross protection. And for some people it could be life-saving.”

She said the H3N2 strain tends to be particularly nasty to the elderly and may bring a deadlier flu season than usual.

“We may see more hospitalizations or deaths this year,” Skowronski said.

She said it’s particularly concerning that the flu has struck B.C.  surprisingly early this season, causing outbreaks in eight seniors’ care homes.

MORE RESOURCES: Flu shot clinic locator

The vaccine was formulated last February because it takes six to eight months to produce in large quantities and the H3N2 virus is thought to have since mutated while circulating in the southern hemisphere.

Skowronski said it’s still not too late to get the shot and some protection when flu activity peaks in the weeks ahead, including any later surge of cases of influenza B, which tends to peak in March or April.

The vaccine also targets the influenza B and H1N1 viruses, but they’re considered less likely to cause illness this flu season.

Even in years when the vaccine is a better fit – last year’s was about 70 per cent effective against the then-dominant H1N1 strain – Skowronksi says everyone should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

People who get the flu shot often mistakenly think any illness they contract can’t be flu and sometimes fail to get appropriate treatment.

“It doesn’t make you invincible,” Skowronski said.

Anti-viral medication can stop or fight an influenza infection but must be given quickly, ideally within 12 hours of the start of symptoms.

An estimated 3,500 Canadians die each year from flu complications – mainly seniors and others with underlying conditions.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Second earthquake in two days strikes near Agassiz

A 2.6-magnitude recorded Saturday morning

Province bringing 421 new affordable childcare spaces to Fraser Valley

Supporting early childhood educators and creating spaces go hand in hand, minister says

New waste system rolling out across Hope Feb. 10

Bins began arriving at homes around Hope this week

Rude awakening: 1.6-magnitude earthquake rouses residents from their sleep

The quake was detected 3 km east-northeast of Agassiz

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

Man clings to roof of car driving along busy road in Maple Ridge

The man was also seen jumping on the vehicle

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Most Read