The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses, the AP reports. Preliminary figures released Thursday suggest the vaccine is 36% effective overall in preventing flu illness severe enough to send a patient to the doctor's office. There's only been one other time in the last decade when the flu vaccine did a worse job. Most illnesses this winter have been caused by a nasty kind of flu called Type A H3N2. The vaccine was only 25% effective against that type. This kind of virus tends to cause more suffering and has been responsible for the worst recent flu seasons. But experts have wondered whether low vaccine effectiveness is another reason for the surprisingly severe season hitting the US this winter. Based on these numbers, the answer is yes.
"The fact that the vaccine doesn't work as well as we would like is clearly a contributing factor," said Dr. William Schaffner, a vaccine expert. The vaccine was somewhat effective in young children, but it was nearly ineffective for older people, including seniors who are most vulnerable. But experts say it's still worth getting a flu shot. It still provides some protection, it can lessen the illness's severity, keep people out of the hospital, and save lives. There are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu during a bad year. "Any type of vaccine is better than none," said Scott Hensley, a microbiologist who has led studies that raised critical questions about the vaccine. The estimates on vaccine effectiveness were published by the CDC.