Flu vaccine gets bad rap, but experts say studies could be flawed

FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, a woman receives a flu vaccine shot at a community fair in Brownsville, Texas. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Millions of Americans will get the flu vaccine this year. They’re hoping to fight off a disease that kills thousands every year. But a new study is raising doubts about this year’s flu shot.

The confusion started when an article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the mismatching of flu viruses with vaccines. But the article applies to studies conducted in Australia, not the United States.

Mahoning County Health Commissioner Pat Sweeney said during any given year, there is a 40 to 60 percent match – vaccine to virus.

When news starts circulating that the flu shot may not work, some people skip it. Sweeney said that’s the wrong choice.

“Every year, there are deaths from influenza and pneumonia, and certainly, influenza is something to be concerned about,” Sweeney said. “We always recommend the influenza vaccine.”

Infectious disease physician Dr. John Venglarcik said the studies could be wrong.

“The devil is in the details. You really have to look at these studies. That is why a true vaccine effectiveness really is not available for peer review for about 18 months after the season is over,” said Dr. John Venglarcik, infectious disease physician.

Most studies in the U.S. to determine the effectiveness of a particular flu vaccine are done through observational studies, in which researchers compare the occurrence of flu illness in vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people. The Centers for Disease Control’s effectiveness studies measure laboratory-confirmed flu illnesses that result in a doctor’s visit or those that result in hospitalization.

According to the Ohio Department of Health‘s data, confirmed hospitalizations in Ohio associated with influenza has remained steady this year with the five-year average.

Venglarcik said it is always better to get the shot and give your body a chance to fight off some of the virus. He said this year’s vaccine should work.

“Based on what is in the vaccine versus a genetic analysis of strains that have been isolated, there is a perfect match,” Venglarcik said.