- Federal officials from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Thursday issued a health advisory to doctors warning them that a major flu virus strain circulating this year has mutated to the point that the current flu vaccine doesn't offer much protection against it.
- Although the flu shot protects against several strains of the virus, one strain—H3N2—has evolved to the point that just half of patients infected with it would benefit from this year's vaccine.
- Health authorities were quick to stress that it is still important to get the flu shot in order to protect against other major strains of the virus. But the CDC is also telling docs to prep for an unusually high number of cases among vaccinated patients by getting ready to prescribe two antivirals, Roche's Tamiflu and GSK's Relenza.
Seeing as peak flu season is right around the corner, it's simply too late to make a new vaccine. The CDC estimates that 159 million doses will be made available this year (although U.S. vaccination rates are staggeringly low).
Officials still emphasized that it's important to get vaccinated. "We are recommending strongly still that people who haven't been vaccinated get vaccinated. Every year vaccine is the best way to protect yourself against the flu," said CDC flu expert Dr. Joe Bresee in an interview with NBC News.
"Though reduced, this cross-protection might reduce the likelihood of severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death. And the vaccine still protects against half the circulating H3N2,as well as H1N1 flu and the B strains."
Flu vaccine development is actually a hotbed of pharma industry innovation, as BioPharma Dive has previously reported. But the time-intensive process of vaccine production can still cause these kinds of complications.
Tamiflu and Relenza have taken big hits over efficacy concerns. This year's flu season may serve to test critics' contention that those drugs don't really cut down on complications or hospital admissions.