Dr. Fauci: Flu Vaccine Only About 30 Percent Effective

By Melanie Arter | January 5, 2015 | 3:24pm EST

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) - Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, told ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopolous" on Sunday that this year's flu vaccine is only "30 something" percent effective against the current influenza virus.

"And one of the things that is clearly different about this year is -- is the flu shots are not as effective, maybe just 60 percent effective..." host Martha Raddatz said, but Fauci corrected her, saying, "No, less - 30 something."

"Thirty something," Raddatz said.

"And 67 percent uneffective," said Fauci.

"Uneffective, then even worse than I thought," Raddatz said.

According to NIAID, flu viruses change from one season to the next and can even change within one flu season. But even if a vaccine is not a good match, antibodies made in response to vaccination with one flu virus can sometimes offer protection for different related viruses.

The flu virus has been officially declared an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Raddatz said, with high flu virus activity reported in 22 states already and increased hospitalizations across the country.

Fauci despite the high percentage of ineffectiveness against the current influenza virus, it's still important to get vaccinated, especially for children and the elderly.

"Martha, absolutely, because even though it isn't a good match to what's circulating, with the H3N2, remember, there's an H1N1 and B which matches well with the vaccine, even though that's not the predominant strain. Even though it isn't a good match for H3N2, getting vaccinated can give you cross protection. It could be the difference between getting very sick or just being mildly sick, the difference between being hospitalized or not," said Fauci. "So we strongly recommend people getting vaccinated."

So how is it that the flu vaccine is the wrong one for the virus?

According to Fauci, it's because "flus drift."

"And at a particular time when you have to make a decision about what to put into the vaccines, you usually do that around February. In February, a certain strain was the strain that was in the community and it was felt that this was going to be the one," Fauci said.

"As you got into the end of March, April, when you already started making the vaccine, it started to -- to drift around. And by the time you got to September or October, it drifted to the point where it was 67 percent a non-match," he added.

Fauci said it's possible that the flu epidemic will get worse.

"One of the things -- one of the things that I read is that during the holiday season, which we're just out of, it -- the flu will usually dip, because you're not around your officemates, children aren't at school, and that that didn't happen this time and now we've got all these people going back to work," said Raddatz.

"Right," Fauci said.

"So is that an indicator that it will get worse?" Raddatz said.

"You know, Martha, it's possible. The one thing about the flu that you can be sure, it's really unpredictable. So some of the patterns that you see, you can kind of guess what's going to happen. But at the end of the day, it just devolves and it's difficult to predict," Fauci said.

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