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'Mismatch' between flu vaccine and circulating virus strains

  • 6 Comments

The influenza vaccine chosen for this year’s immunisation campaign shows low effectiveness against the main circulating strain seen so far this season, public health officials have admitted.

Research by Public Health England has found that the seasonal influenza vaccine has provided low protection this winter against flu infection caused by one particular subtype, H3N2.

This is because of a mismatch between the A(H3N2) strain selected for the vaccine this year and the main A(H3N2) strain that has been circulating in the UK this winter.

The findings on mid-season flu vaccine effectiveness in the UK were published today in Eurosurveillence.

The research, based on the results from 1,314 patients presenting in primary care across the UK, found that vaccine effectiveness in preventing laboratory confirmed influenza was estimated to be 3% overall.

This compares to approximately 50% vaccine effectiveness that has typically been seen in the UK over recent years.

“If a change in the virus is detected once production has started it is not possible to change it”

Richard Pebody

The current flu season has been dominated by circulation of influenza A(H3N2) subtype viruses, which cause particular problems for vulnerable groups such as the elderly and has resulted in care home outbreaks, hospitalisations and excess mortality in those over 65 years.

Antigenic and genetic analysis by PHE found evidence of “significant drift” compared to the virus strain in the flu vaccine, resulting in a mismatch between them.

The UK findings follow the recent publication of similar US and Canada’s mid-season vaccine effectiveness estimates.

Study author Dr Richard Pebody, PHE’s head of flu surveillance, said: “The World Health Organization monitors influenza globally and each year recommends the strains of flu virus that should be included in the flu vaccine for the forthcoming flu season.

“It takes from February through to August/September to produce sufficient quantities of the flu vaccine,” he said. “If a change in the virus is detected once production has started it is not possible to change it.  

“The current vaccine is still expected to protect against flu A(H1N1)pdm09 and flu B – both of which may yet circulate this season, so anyone in an at-risk group should still get vaccinated if they have not already,” he added.

“Our findings also mean that the early use of antivirals to treat and help prevent serious cases of flu in vulnerable patients is even more important this season,” said Dr Pebody.

In recent weeks, there have been indications that influenza activity is stabilising. However, PHE said evidence of significant excess mortality, particularly in the elderly, continues to be seen, with more deaths than expected at this time of the year.

PHE’s weekly flu report was published today showed that levels of flu activity were at similar/lower levels than the previous week.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Highly alarming for everyone and it just shows again that if a human-to-human killer strain of the bird flu ever emerged that hundreds of millions if not a billion people would be wiped out, as flu viruses are constantly changing through mutations - fact not fiction. Indeed in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic it was the second wave that killed up to 100 million people worldwide that had mutated from the initial Spanish flu virus. But if we look at the swine flu of 2009 (a bird flu variant) pandemic, we see that we would lose the war for survival as drugs would come far too late to help us when analysed the virus from first death to when the population were inoculated against it. Indeed if we look at the official statistics and compare Swine flu with the greatest human killer of all time Spanish flu, we see that most, in the case of Spanish flu, had done its worst in the first 6 months . But if we look at the Swine flu pandemic of 6 years ago we see that the first vaccine was not really until 7 months 1 week after the first human swine flu death. Therefore we are all fooling ourselves in putting hope in the hands of drugs and where they will arrive too late - indeed we shall be dead. That is why Professor Kennedy Shortridge, a world leading expert in microbiology put forward the only strategy that would save humans from such a virulent human killer and which stopped the bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong in its tracks. So why was this strategy not adopted you might ask? Well, the pharmaceutical industry did not want it to see the light of day as there were not the multi-billions in constant drugs using the Shortridge strategy and that is why is was squashed. Another example of corporate power and profits rising above the human race itself and its sheer survival if there ever was one.

    'Possibly the Most Important Keynote Speech ever given for Humanity's Future Survival as the 'Unthinkable' will eventually happen according to Dr. Margaret Chan, D-G of the World Health Organization (WHO) who has said many times, it is only a matter of time not when' - http://worldinnovationfoundation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/possibly-most-important-keynote-speech.html

    We have to start adopting the 'prevention is better than cure' strategy that Shortridge developed before we are dispatched to countless loss of human lives. For Margaret Chan (D-G of the World Health Organization) has stated many times that it is not a question of if but when. Are we so stupid as humans not to realise that the drugs strategy is in reality a complete pack of lies.

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  • Well that turns the assertions that the flu vaccine WILL protect you on its head. The trust I work for nags us daily to have the flu jab, saying it will protect ourselves, our family, friends and patients, but it has never been 100% effective even before this year.

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  • Geneva University Hospital have imposed the wearing of masks on all staff and visitors in clinical areas during the flu epidemic.

    in previous years it was only those who were not vaccinated who had to follow this rule.

    zero tolerance of risk maybe but what of the cost effectiveness? hopefully they have negotiated a good price with their supplies.

    not all Swiss hospitals are adopting this rule and not all are making vaccination of staff obligatory except possibly in higher risk areas.

    links to this news supplied on request but in French or German only.

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  • On the subject of Masks - the CMO has already advised masks should be worn if staff are not vaccinated - although as the vaccine doesnt work maybe this means we should all be wearing them?

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  • Everyone wearing face masks eh? That's a bit of a blow for patient engagement. I suppose we could have the #hellomynameis campaign on them?

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  • Anonymous | 9-Feb-2015 3:17 pm

    you could write your name on the mask to save you the time and trouble of engagement <:-)


    more seriously I note in the photos the Ebola staff in Africa all write their names and function in large letters on the outside of the clothing which is excellent as it must be frightening and a huge psychological and social barrier for the patients.

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