This year’s flu mania was a media feeding fest. And it isn’t over yet. This year’s flu shot, a seemingly always perennial failure, is being blamed for creating a false sense of security against the flu. Maybe some people washed their hands less? Or didn’t eat a healthy diet aimed at immune-boosting concepts? Some believe that flu shots, over the years, have created more potent cases of flu through a game of immune defense chess.
Whatever the case, the flu shot simply didn’t cut it and that’s hardly being argued. In fact, it is widely agreed upon and reported that the flu shot didn’t even come close to getting the job done.
Now, it seems, this year’s Fall flu shot will be rivaling the Winter and Spring’s flu shot version for the award for ineffectiveness. In other words, this year’s Fall flu shot, it seems, is going to suck equally.
The H3N2 formulation is being said to be a similar failure to the one from 2016 and 2017. Unsurprisingly, “viral mutations” are being blamed for the shot’s ineffectiveness., according to a study published in Oxford Academic.
We predict vaccine efficacy with a measure of antigenic distance between influenza A(H3N2) and candidate vaccine viruses based on amino acid substitutions in the dominant epitopes. In 2016-2017, our model predicts 19% efficacy compared to 20% observed. This tool assists candidate vaccine selection by predicting human protection against circulating strains.
This was using the pEpitope method, which is considered the most reliable way to predict flu vaccine efficacy. The pEpitope method can extract uniqueness and differences in genetic sequences of flu strains.
“The vaccine has been changed for 2018-19, but unfortunately it still contains two critical mutations that arise from the egg-based vaccine production process,” says Michael Deem, professor in biochemical and genetic engineering and professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University.
“Our study found that these same mutations halved the efficacy of flu vaccines in the past two seasons, and we expect they will lower the efficacy of the next vaccine in a similar manner.”
Flu viruses essentially evolve rapidly using amino acid chains as a way to avoid detection. Most flu shots are created using cultured viruses inside of chicken eggs, which has now been shown to be ineffective.
“Very often there are egg adaptations,” he says. “There were a couple of these in the vaccine strain the past two seasons that wound up making it a little bit different from the actual circulating virus strain.”
So it appears that next Fall, we can depend on two things: The World Series and a bad flu shot. At least we know its coming.