That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not know exactly how many people die from seasonal flu each year. States do not have to report flu deaths among adults, and the cause of death for people with complications or secondary infections from the flu is not always clear. We will not know the estimated number of flu deaths this year for some time.
What we do know is that the flu has peaked quickly this year. The CDC found 22,048 cases of flu in the last three months of 2012, compared with 849 flu cases in the same period in 2011. We also know that 20 children have already died from this flu; 34 died during the 2011-2012 flu season, while 282 children died during the swine flu/H1N1 outbreak of 2009-2010. These figures suggest that this flu season will be worse than last year’s but not as bad as the one three years ago.
2. Drug companies deserve blame for vaccine shortages.
When producing vaccines each season, there’s no easy way for drug companies to know that they’ve made enough. Manufacturers made about 135 million doses of vaccinethis season, of which 128 million have been distributed. Flu vaccine takes about nine months to make, which means that manufacturers have to start developing a vaccine well before flu season begins. Even though there have been some isolated shortages, particularly in the Northeast, drugmakers cannot easily adjust the number of doses once production is underway.
Manufacturers are more nimble than they once were and have reduced the time it takes to make an annual batch. Technological improvements, such as cell-based vaccines, could make the production cycle even shorter. (Cell-based vaccines are grown in cell cultures, unlike most flu vaccines, which are made inside fertilized chicken eggs, a slower technique that dates to the 1930s.) In fact, last November, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first cell-based seasonal flu vaccine in the United States.
Though for now we are largely stuck with the number of vaccine doses we already have, manufacturers base production targets on how many shots were used in previous years. Therefore, the best way to make sure we have more vaccine next year is to go out there and get that flu shot.
3. The vaccine won’t keep you from getting the flu — and it’s unsafe, anyway.
The flu vaccine is about 62 percent effective in preventing the flu — obviously not perfect. Still, vaccines are matched to this year’s flu strains, particularly the virulent H3N2 causing the worst problems, and are the best way to prevent infection should you be exposed.