Paquita Bonillo, 84 years old, receives the fourth dose of Covid-19 and flu vaccine in the garden of the Feixa Llarga nursing home in Barcelona, Spain, September 26, 2022.
Zowy Feet | Getty Images
The flu vaccine was 68% effective at preventing hospitalizations in children but was less protective for seniors this season, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine was 35% effective in preventing hospitalizations in the elderly in one study and 42% effective in a second analysis.
For people with weakened immune systems, the vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization by 44% in one study and 30% in another.
The flu hit early this season when the weekly hospitalization rate peaked in December and has since declined, according to CDC data. The flu has caused 25 million illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths since October. More than 100 children have died from the flu this season.
Influenza cases rose sharply last autumn after two years in which the virus circulated at low levels due to masking and social distancing measures put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic.
dr Jose Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the co-circulation of Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus is putting significant pressure on hospitals and drug supply chains across the United States
“Following a brief and expected spike in hospitalizations and cases around the holidays, we are now seeing a steady decline in Covid, influenza and RSV cases and hospitalizations nationally,” Romero told the CDC’s Independent Advisory Committee on Wednesday.
“While influenza activity is declining, it remains possible that a second wave could occur later in the season, as has been the case in the past,” Romero said.
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Children and the elderly are typically at the highest risk for serious illness from the flu. By the end of January, about 52% of children and 70% of seniors had received a flu vaccine, according to CDC data. The CDC recommends seasonal vaccination for everyone 6 months and older.
The effectiveness of influenza vaccines can vary greatly from season to season, depending on how well the strains included in the shots are matched to the circulating viruses. dr Lisa Grohskopf, a CDC official, said vaccines and circulating flu strains have been fairly well-matched this season.
Hospitals were hit last fall by the simultaneous spread of Covid, flu and respiratory syncytial virus. The Children’s Hospital Association had urged the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency in November, calling the rise in hospitalizations of children at the time “alarming.”
While there are widely available Covid and flu shots, there are no vaccines for RSV. Several companies are developing syringes for older adults that could receive Food and Drug Administration approval this year.
Pfizer is developing a vaccine that protects infants from RSV, and Sanofi has asked the FDA to approve an antibody called nirsevimab that also protects children up to two years old.
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