Flu vaccine less effective against mutant strain

B.C. Centre For Disease Control says some protection still better than none, flu season may be deadlier than usual for elderly

Dr. Danuta Skowronski is an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre For Disease Control.

This year’s flu shot may prove less effective than usual because the dominant virus now circulating has mutated significantly in the months since the vaccine was devised.

The H3N2 strain – one of three targeted in this year’s flu vaccine – is thought to have changed its genetic makeup enough to possibly thwart the antibodies that the vaccine activates.

Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, is still recommending the vaccine, particularly for the elderly, the chronically ill and those with compromised immune systems.

“It’s not a perfect match,” she said. “But for the high risk, even an imperfectly matched vaccine is going to give cross protection. And for some people it could be life-saving.”

She said the H3N2 strain tends to be particularly nasty to the elderly and may bring a deadlier flu season than usual.

“We may see more hospitalizations or deaths this year,” Skowronski said.

She said it’s particularly concerning that the flu has struck B.C.  surprisingly early this season, causing outbreaks in eight seniors’ care homes.

MORE RESOURCES: Flu shot clinic locator

The vaccine was formulated last February because it takes six to eight months to produce in large quantities and the H3N2 virus is thought to have since mutated while circulating in the southern hemisphere.

Skowronski said it’s still not too late to get the shot and some protection when flu activity peaks in the weeks ahead, including any later surge of cases of influenza B, which tends to peak in March or April.

The vaccine also targets the influenza B and H1N1 viruses, but they’re considered less likely to cause illness this flu season.

Even in years when the vaccine is a better fit – last year’s was about 70 per cent effective against the then-dominant H1N1 strain – Skowronksi says everyone should wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth.

People who get the flu shot often mistakenly think any illness they contract can’t be flu and sometimes fail to get appropriate treatment.

“It doesn’t make you invincible,” Skowronski said.

Anti-viral medication can stop or fight an influenza infection but must be given quickly, ideally within 12 hours of the start of symptoms.

An estimated 3,500 Canadians die each year from flu complications – mainly seniors and others with underlying conditions.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

More housing options needed in Mission to fill gaps

New report indicates 298 units a year have to be built just to keep up

Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries after crash in Abbotsford

Cause of collision on Old Yale Road near Springhill Street still under investigation

Chilliwack dad rescues his two young daughters after truck plunges into Cultus Lake

“I used every single one of my angels that day,” said Dennis Saulnier

Family of dead Abbotsford football star urge changes to mental health policies in hospitals

Uko family disappointed in actions of Regina hospital, hosting public funeral service this weekend

Sex offender Danny Depew sentenced in Abbotsford to 2.5 more years

Depew still has child-luring charges before the courts in Ontario

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The importance of accurate, ethical reporting is critical – perhaps as never before

White Rock council considers allowing alcohol in waterfront park

Council mulls business-boosting measures, including picnic benches

Langley woman recalls last words spoken to mother who died of COVID-19 on 88th birthday

Verna Clarke was more than a senior with dementia who died of COVID at Langley Lodge, she was ‘loved’

Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say

Ontario Long Term Care Association calling for more action

B.C. woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Horgan calls for national anti-racism program; will pitch idea to PM, premiers

Premier John Horgan said he’s horrified by the death of George Floyd in the United States

VIDEO: Internal investigation into aggressive arrest by Kelowna Mountie

A video allegedly shows a Kelowna Mountie striking a man several times

COVID claims 23rd Langley Lodge patient, making it the deadliest outbreak in B.C.

Coronavirus kills another senior at Langley care home, bringing B.C. total to 166

Most Read