Posted in flu, Health, news

Should We Keep our Mouths Shut When it Comes to Guessing Flu Shot Efficacy?

Low flu shot efficacy predictions may be turning people off from getting the life-saving vaccine.

A 3-year-old girl from Indiana who died days after being diagnosed with the flu was never vaccinated against the virus since the family was dissuaded by efficacy reports.

Alivia Viellieux of Muncie, Indiana was diagnosed with Influenza A when she presented to medical providers with a fever of 106 degrees.


She was hospitalized and when she improved she was sent home. Unfortunately she began feeling worse again at home and died in her sleep the next day to what the family believes was pneumonia.

The number one cause of flu-related death is pneumonia.  Most children are vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia with Prevnar as infants, as are those over 65 who receive the Pneumovax.

Alivia’s grandmother, Tameka Stettler, stated they didn’t give the toddler the flu shot this year due to its purported low efficacy rate.  She states, “Alivia did not have it because they had told us once the flu is going around it’s not going to matter if you got it or not.” She continued, as reported by Fox News, “We just decided not to put those chemicals in the girl’s body if it’s not gonna help.”

The flu vaccine this year has been reported to be approximately 30% effective against this year’s flu strains, including H3N2, H1N1 and an Influenza B strain.  Strong efficacy would range in the 60-65% range. Why not 100%? Virus strains mutate easily as weeks go by and vaccine manufacturers need to rely on data from the Southern Hemisphere who combats the flu season before us.

A November study published in the New England Journal Of Medicine stated that Australia had dealt with the majority of strains this season to be H3N2 and their flu shot was found to only be 10% effective.

US media outlets reported these findings and the public panicked.  However, the medical community still urged everyone over 6 months of age to get the flu shot as any vaccine efficacy can still be life saving.  However, that might have fallen on deaf ears.

Which brings me to ask….Should we be reporting flu shot efficacy before we know the facts?

We don’t really know how effective the flu shot is until late until the season.  Moreover in those of us who received the flu shot and did not get the flu this season, was it due to the shot or our good health, or luck?  And who reports to the CDC that they were “all clear” this flu season?  If data on flu shot efficacy is not able to accurately collected on those who did not get the flu, how are we getting a true estimate of vaccine effectiveness?

I understand that media outlets want to warn us of a deadly flu season without an ideal vaccine but the panic may work against us with many NOT taking precautionary measures.

I suggest at the start of next flu season, the media reminds viewers, listeners, readers that flu shots are never 100% effective but can provide protection without giving a “guestimate” percentage. Reporting what happened in the Southern Hemisphere the season before is fine with a caveat that we may not know our vaccine’s true effectiveness till later in the season.  Emphasizing good hand washing, avoiding others who are sick, good nutrition, being well rested and getting vaccinated will do more good than grabbing people’s attention with a scary headline that may not be entirely accurate.

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician


Nationally Syndicated Radio Host, Board Certified Family Medicine Physician, Author

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