By Brenda Flanagan
When asked if she had gotten a flu shot, Vidula Patel said, “Yes, because I’m pregnant.”
She’s due in March, and Patel’s taking no chances. She and her husband both got flu shots.
“Because it’s good for the baby’s health. If I’m sick, the baby’s gonna get sick, too,” said Patel.
Flu’s going around with cases spiking in the eastern half of the U.S. including New Jersey. Hot spots here include the middle and northeast portions of the state. But it’s a different kind of flu than health officials expected. The A-H3N2 flu virus apparently mutated and took them by surprise.
“The experts take a guess as to what’s gonna be circulating in the fall– and they guessed wrong,” said Dr. Dean Blumberg from the Vaccine Research Univ. of Ca., Davis.
That means, flu vaccines created last spring were not designed for the version of H3N2 flu virus that’s currently making most people sick.
“It means that, instead of being the usual flu shot will protect you 60 to 70 percent of the time. It’s gonna be less effective. I can’t put a number on that – whether it’s gonna be 40 to 50 percent? It’s still gonna provide some protection but not as much as we normally expect,” said Blumberg.
The flu shot that we got may not have been very helpful in protecting us against the flu now,” said Secaucus resident Leslie Regan.
The Regan family expressed some exasperation.
“The flu shot– it covers this. But there’s a whole range of things that it doesn’t cover,” said Bethpage, NY resident Francine Kump. “Not good news– but hopefully we won’t get the flu, y’know?”
Some already did get H3N2 in New Jersey, which reports an upward trend, lately: 14 cases the week ending Dec. 20. 43 cases over a three-week period. That’s 60 cases of H3N2 so far this flu season. And it’s a particularly nasty strain, according to New Jersey Chief Epidemiologist Tina Tan.
“Well A-H3N2 is associated with more severe illnesses in general. So people who are more vulnerable populations tend to be more prone to getting complications associated with any flu strain,” said Tan.
Vulnerable people include very young children, seniors, people with weakened immune systems and women who are pregnant. Tan says, as long as flu’s around, it’s worth getting the shot. But several people expressed reservations about the vaccine.
“Last time I got it, I got it. Three days later. And I couldn’t go to work, I was so miserable,” said Jersey City resident Harold Johnson.
The CDC’s really pushing hard now– saying people should really pay attention to this one and go get a shot. “They say that basically every year,” said North Bergen resident Eliz Doughty.
The CDC suffered a self-inflicted wound to its own credibility for the way it handled the Ebola crisis last year. Now as it strives to control this flu with a less effective vaccine– its biggest task may be to regain the public’s healthy respect.