by Marianne Aiello, public affairs officer for North End Waterfront Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the 2014 flu shot may be less effective than it normally is, due to the circulation of an unanticipated strain of the virus called H3N2. Because this strain has slightly mutated from the one used to make this year’s flu vaccine, the shot may not work as well as it typically does.

However, that doesn’t mean that the flu shot – which contains vaccines for four strains of the flu – is no good.

“The vaccine as a whole is still excellent, even if this one part is slightly less effective than previous years,” says John Foster, MD, MPH, chief medical officer at North End Waterfront Health. “Only one of the four strains of the flu virus is a weaker match this year, and it only reduced the effectiveness of that factor from an estimated 80% to 50% – but 50% protection for one strain is still excellent.  The other three strains in the vaccine are a good match to the circulating viruses this year.”

In response to this decreased effectiveness, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has issued a recommendation to healthcare providers to consider treating high-risk patients presenting with flu-like symptoms more quickly with antiviral medications such as Tamiflu.

“Despite what you may infer from the news, there has been no advisory that the vaccine is anything but still a good preventive measure this year,” Foster says. “If you haven’t received a flu shot yet, it is definitely still worthwhile to do so.”

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