“The current flu vaccine is only about 30 percent effective against H3N2, a type of influenza A, which seems to be especially prevalent this flu season,” said Ruth Lotz, UNC Campus Health Services physician.
Despite the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine, Myron Cohen, a UNC professor of epidemiology, said the benefits of the vaccine stretch beyond just protection from contracting the virus.
“It’s not just about preventing infection but also reduction of illness and onward transmission,” Cohen said in an email.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only two in five people in the nation receive a flu vaccination prior to the beginning of the season. This year, vaccinations among people ages 18 to 49 dropped by 3.7 percent.
“I think that some people assume that they either won’t catch the flu or that it’s no big deal if they do,” Heise said. “However, flu can still make young healthy adults feel pretty miserable, and in some cases it can cause serious disease in young adults — so it’s definitely worthwhile for everyone to get the vaccine.”
Heise said researchers across the nation are pursuing unique strategies to increase the effectiveness of influenza vaccinations, including the creation of new universal flu vaccines.
“There are experimental universal vaccines in development, but I don’t know how close those are to human use,” he said. “Those vaccines would be different from this year’s vaccine, which is comprised of a mix of inactivated forms of the currently circulating viruses.”
A universal vaccine, Heise said, would attempt to boost the body’s immune response to conserved regions of the virus — which are less prone to the mutations that typically decrease the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
For students that have yet to be vaccinated, Lotz said it’s not too late — flu cases are occasionally seen as late as May. Students can receive the vaccine at Campus Health and UNC Student Stores for free under their insurance plan.