Experts recommend flu shot in light of spike in flu cases

This year’s flu season has hit the United States causing an alarming spike in the number of illnesses, and the outbreak has still not reached its peak.

The Influenza virus has many different strains that are constantly mutating and evolving. Each year public health officials must predict next year’s strain of Influenza so vaccines can be ready. This preemptive decision exists so that enough flu vaccines can be produced for people that need them, but there has always been a chance of the wrong strain being predicted.

According to Dr. Swagata Banik, associate professor of public health and chair of the department of public health and prevention sciences, an incorrect prediction is exactly what happened with the 2018 flu season.

“The vaccine they made for this year was based on what they predicted the strain would be, but the strain turned out to be very different this year. The vaccine only has about 30% effectiveness against the current virus,” said Banik.

The Center for Disease Control often estimates the correct Influenza strain for vaccine production, or they predict a strain close enough that the vaccine is still functional against the virus. This year is the first they’ve been so far off.

“Traditionally this is probably the first year when their modeling didn’t pan out,” said Banik. “Until this year we were on point. Every year we got the same strain based on our modeling and based on the blood samples they collect.”

Even though the vaccine only has 30% effectiveness against the current outbreak, it is still recommended that everyone get the flu shot. The mutation of the virus is the biggest problem for creating vaccines that will consistently work, and the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the virus is to mutate. A higher population of vaccinated individuals is the most important key to the prevention of large Influenza outbreaks in the future.

“The virus mutates between the people who were vaccinated and those unvaccinated. As the virus flows to new healthy people it changes its structure because we have this non-homogeneity across the population. So, if everybody gets vaccinated the virus structure would remain the same and it won’t spread as fast,” said Banik.

The Baldwin Wallace Health Center has made significant efforts to make flu shots convenient and available for students. They offer it as early as October, just at the beginning of the flu season, and they set up clinics in the Union and Lou Higgins Recreation Center to make the vaccine extremely easy to get. In addition to that, the Health Center has been giving students prescriptions to Tamiflu, an antiviral medicine used to treat and reduce the chance of getting Influenza.

Linda Florian, R.N. at the BW Health Center, believes that it is especially important for college students to get a flu shot because of close interaction with many different people. She has noticed a significant increase in students coming into the Health Center requesting the vaccine.

“There has been a lot of media coverage and a lot of people are scared. We’ve actually run out of our flu shots,” said Florain. “We order a certain number and once they’re gone, they’re gone. We order 400 flu vaccines every year, but if you think about what the population of the campus is that’s not really that much.”