New flu vaccine only slightly better than traditional shots

WASHINGTON — A newer kind of flu vaccine only worked a little bit better in seniors compared to traditional shots this past winter, according to new reports from the Food and Drug Administration.

Flu vaccines overall did not help very much in keeping those 65-years-old and older out of the hospital. The shots had only a roughly 24 percent effectiveness, according to the FDA findings.

“We really need to do better with flu vaccines,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. “It’s always better to get vaccinated than to not get vaccinated, even when the effectiveness of the vaccine is not optimal.”

But Fauci said that overall, “we didn’t do very well this year.”

The best performance was by a new shot called Flucelvax, which was about 26.5 percent effective in the senior age group.

The vast majority of flu shots in the U.S. are made in chicken eggs. Flucelvax is instead made by growing viruses in animal cells.

“One of the good news things is that we’re starting to see that how you prepare the vaccine, one type of preparation seems to be a little bit better than the other,” Fauci said. “It’s not a lot better, but it’s a hint of where we’re going to go in the future.”

The FDA study included more than 13 million Medicare beneficiaries and looked at what kind of flu shots they got and whether they came down with a flu that put them in the hospital.

When it comes down to making the vaccine more effective, Fauci said that it’s tough, but that researchers are getting closer to a universal vaccine that will help with the strains of the flu that change from year to year.

“Right now, the strategy which is time honored but still not particularly efficient, is to kind of chase after flu, figure out what it’s going to be next season and fashion your vaccine against what you hope is a really great guess,” Fauci said.

“We need to get away from that as we get better and better so that we get a vaccine that’s good against even the ones that very much drift from season to season so we can make a decision now; that would be good for the viruses that occur, this year, next year and the year after.”

For Americans of all ages, the CDC estimates that flu shots were 40 percent effective against all strains this past season and were far less effective against the kind that made most people sick.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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