By now, most Beijingers know that the expat clinics have received their supplies of seasonal flu (not H1N1) vaccine. But how effective is it, and who really needs it? Many people are wary of this vaccine, and even in America only about 40% of adults get it annually.
The annual flu virus, for most people, is not a severe illness and is treated like a cold. But the most vulnerable are the elderly, those with chronic diseases, and children under 5. Every year, 90% of flu deaths are from people over 60. So, they definitely benefit the most from the vaccine.
But it’s important not to be falsely reassured; the vaccine is not 100% effective. With the best-case scenario, when the vaccine accurately targets that season’s flu virus, effectiveness is 70-90% in adults. For children, effectiveness is about 66% in younger groups, better in older children. Infants under 6 months old are most vulnerable to flu complications, but the vaccine isn’t approved for their age, which is why it’s important for infant family members to get vaccinated. In the elderly, the vaccine is considered a bit less effective but does cut down on hospitalizations by 30-70%. However, it’s still unclear whether or not overall mortality in the elderly is decreased.
So what’s the bottom line? Well, let’s keep it in perspective; the flu usually isn’t too serious but it still kills 36,000 people a year just in the U.S. So, those at highest risk should take every precaution available, and that includes the vaccine. I do recommend it for all age groups, especially this year, with the double whammy of seasonal flu and H1N1 flu overlapping.
You can read more about effectiveness at the CDC Flu website.
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