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Seattle Scientists Say This Year's Flu Shot, Though Only 23 Percent Effective, Can Still Make A Dent

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This year's flu shot is about 23 percent effective in preventing serious influenza, says an interim assessment.

Public health officials say this year’s flu shot provides less protection than in recent years, but Seattle scientists involved in the new study say the vaccine can still make a dent.

The Centers for Disease Control’s interim findingsshow the vaccine confers a 23 percent lower risk of getting influenza bad enough to need medical help.

The vaccine was 47 to 61 percent effective in the last three flu seasons, which were considered good yearsfor the shot.

“We know that even when it works really well, it’s not great. It’s not like measles vaccine that’s 95 percent effective or better,” said study co-author Mike Jackson of GroupHealth Research.

But the flu is so widespread and causes so many problems — anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 Americans die of it each year — that a marginally effective vaccine is still seen as worthwhile.

“Even an imperfect vaccine is better than nothing for trying to prevent those hospitalizations and deaths,” Jackson said, adding even if you do get sick, the shot may help you get over it more quickly.

Meanwhile, the reduced protection means vulnerable groups should be extra vigilant.

“People who are at high risk of severe disease from influenza — this is the elderly, people with chronic lung disease or chronic heart disease — should check with their doctor early if they start having symptoms from the flu because a prescription for antivirals may keep them out of the hospital,” Jackson said.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.