Don’t use the ineffectiveness of last year’s influenza vaccine as an excuse not to get vaccinated or encourage vaccination this year, health officials said at a Sept. 17 press conference about the upcoming flu season.

“Flu is unpredictable, but you can predict that the single best thing you can do to protect yourself is to get a flu vaccine,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said.

Last year’s flu vaccine was ineffective because the strain that caused almost all of the reported flu cases had mutated and was different than the virus contained in the vaccine, said William Schaffner, MD, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The NFID sponsored the press conference, which was held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and also streamed online to reporters. “So far, as we track influenza viruses this year, the ones that are causing very early disease are exactly as was predicted, so it looks to me as if the vaccine is going to be [effective],” Schaffner added. This year’s vaccine includes the mutated strain that caused so much illness last year, Frieden said.

Additional points relevant to senior living community residents and employees:

  • Those who work with older adults should get vaccinated. Among healthcare professionals, Frieden said, vaccination was lowest among those working in assisted living communities, nursing homes, home health and other long-term care settings, which puts residents at risk of getting the flu and becoming seriously ill.
  • More middle-aged people need to get vaccinated. Vaccination last year was highest among those aged fewer than 5 years and more than 65 years, Frieden said. “A lot of the gains can be made in the young and middle-aged population,” said Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore. “For young and middle-aged healthy adults, protecting others should be as compelling a reason to get the influenza vaccine as protecting yourself.”
  • Those over 65 should be sure they have been vaccinated against pneumonia, too. “We recommend the pneumococcal vaccination for everyone over the age of 65 and for some people under the age of 65 who have chronic health conditions such as diabetes or chronic lung disease,” Frieden said. “So when you get your flu vaccination, be sure to make sure you’re up to date on your other vaccines.”

Three steps can help prevent the spread of flu and the severity of illness, Frieden said:

  1. Get vaccinated. “That’s the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community against flu.”
  2. Take preventive action. “Cover your cough and sneeze, and if you’re sick, stay home.”
  3. Take flu anti-viral medications if your doctor prescribes them. “The analysis that CDC scientists have done suggests that these medications, particularly if given promptly, can reduce the duration of illness by about a day and can reduce the severity of illness.”

For more information, see the CDC and NFID websites.