Tracking the true impact of influenza across the country can be incredibly difficult for a number of factors. First, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the individual states are not required to report deaths related to influenza in those Americans over the age of 18 to the CDC, limiting the availability of accurate information for the purposes of tracking trends nationally. Furthermore, many of these deaths aren’t actually recorded as with influenza as the cause of death. Instead, death certificates list a number of flu-related complications such as respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, or complications related to inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues.
Without accurate information available, it is difficult for the American population to make well-informed decisions regarding the risk of influenza, flu vaccines, and the use of flu-related medications such as Tamiflu. Combine this lack of information with the controversy surrounding these decisions in the United States today, and you have a recipe for disaster in relation to the media and general public opinion.
New information, however, has called the effectiveness of the current influenza vaccine into question. A total of 8 residents of Santa Barbara County have diedthis year due to contracting the flu. In assessing the health records of these 8 fatalities, it has been revealed that 7 of the 8 had received the current influenza vaccine.
This isn’t the first time that the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine has been called into question. In December, with the winter season behind them, a studypublished in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’ revealed that the vaccination used in the country that year for the prevention of influenza A or H3N2 was only effective in approximately 10% of cases.
When asked how these findings may impact the situation here in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated, “What happened is, in the development of the vaccine, as we grow it in eggs, the virus itself mutated a bit, so that there was almost an accidental mismatch purely on the basis of the virus trying to adapt itself to growing in eggs. That’s what happened in Australia and it is likely that that’s what we’re going to see here.” He advised that the current vaccine was found to have a particularly low rate of success in the prevention of influenza A.
Further research is required to better understand these risks. At the same time, however, with a number of experts currently questioning the effectiveness of the vaccine, we have to ask ourselves if the benefits outweigh the risks. It is vital that this information, both for and against the use of vaccines, are made available to Americans to provide them with the information necessary to make an informed decision.