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

Hundreds of wax figures find new life in Saanich man’s home

Former director of Victoria’s Royal London Wax Museum still hopes to revive wax figure tourism

Oak Bay wins Vancouver Island basketball championship in Nanaimo

Third-place NDSS will get to challenge second place Claremont for a berth in provincials

Peninsula Eagles will host Midget T2 provincial championships

Provincial championships will take place at Panorama Recreation March 15 to 19

UPDATED: Hit and run results in damaged fire hydrant, flooding on Richmond Road

Registered owner issued $360 ticket, responsible for repair costs

Saanich’s senior race car driver not slowing down

Bill Okell kicks off 2020 season at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California on Feb. 21

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

Tyler Toffoli scores twice, Canucks crush Bruins 9-3

Stecher, Miller each add three points for Vancouver

Zamboni driver, 42, earns NHL win over Maple Leafs

Emergency goalie called into action for Carolina Hurricanes

Governor general says multiple solutions needed for ‘complicated’ overdose issue

Julie Payette met at a fire hall with firefighters and police officers as well as politicians and health experts

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Loans or gifts? Judge rules woman must pay Victoria man back $7K

B.C. judge rules that woman must pay back more than $7,000 in advanced funds to man

Most Read