According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every state except California, Mississippi, and Hawaii, is reporting an outbreak of seasonal flu. This flu season began a month earlier than normal, and is expected to continue into the spring months. Twenty pediatric deaths from flu have been recorded so far this season.
Two public health emergencies have been declared due to flu, one in the city of Boston and one in the state of New York. Boston has seen about 700 cases so far this year compared with 70 this time last year. In New York, nearly 20,000 cases have been reported in the season so far compared with 4400 total last year. With the emergency declared in New York, the minimum age for vaccination at pharmacies has been lowered from eighteen to six in an effort to expand vaccine coverage.
In a press conference held by the CDC, Director Tom Frieden reported that while flu rates are incredibly high in some areas currently, they are also appearing to decline in other places. He explained, “This really is not surprising. Influenza activity ebbs and flows during flu season and tends to spread across the country.” For this reason, areas that are currently experiencing lower rates cannot necessarily expect to have passed the “peak” of the season.
Dr. Joe Bresee, the chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division, acknowledged the difficulty of developing a seasonal flu vaccine due to the multiple types and strains of influenza that circulate.
Frieden explained that vaccination is still the best way to prevent flu. Research on this year’s vaccine has shown it to be about sixty two percent effective, meaning a person who gets vaccinated is sixty two percent less likely to get the flu that requires him or her to visit a doctor. Bresee added that that this level of effectiveness is “what we'd expect from influenza vaccine in a year in which the circulating strains look like the strains that were included in the vaccine.”
Officials at the CDC estimated that about 37 percent of the country’s population had received a flu vaccine by mid-November. More people are expected to be vaccinated as the season continues.
However, some states are reporting flu vaccine shortages due to an unpredicted high demand this season. Spokesperson for the CDC Curtis Allen explained that these shortages are not widespread, and that “if you seek out [a vaccine] you should be able to find it.”
To find out where you can get a flu vaccine in your area, learn about shortages, or report a shortage, visit HealthMap’s Vaccine Finder tool.