Posted by: Chris Maloney | November 13, 2012

Will Getting the Flu Vaccine Protect Me From Getting The New Swine Flu?

English: Modified version of File:CDC-11214-sw...

English: Modified version of File:CDC-11214-swine-flu.jpg for landscape aspect. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year I want to fully support the vaccine recommendations, so I look them up for my patients.  The question is whether this year’s vaccine will prevent the newest swine flu virus.The short answer is no.

The longer answer is that you should vaccinate anyway, unless you happen to be over 65, in which case you get double vaccine.  And if you’re a health care worker, you must vaccinate or lose your job.

And yes, the experts all agree that vaccinating will not protect those vaccinated against the newest strain of the swine flu.  But vaccinate everyone anyway.  Welcome to the strange world of flu vaccination.

A New Pandemic

In case you missed it, we’ve got a new swine flu in America.  (All information is taken from (2012–2013 Influenza update written for the Cleveland Clinic).

Our new variation has been transmitted from swine to children at fairs, and is classified as “a variant strain, called H3N2v.”  Where did this strain come from?  Swine were infected by two viruses, producing a hybrid “containing genetic material from swine H3N2 and the 2009 human pandemic virus H1N1pdm09.”

But I haven’t seen the news stories on this one.  Maybe we just don’t know about its transmission rate yet?  Nope.  “Epidemiologic data showed that children under 10 years of age are especially susceptible to this new variant because they lack immunity, whereas adolescents and adults may have some immunity from cross-reacting antibodies.”

So what I’m reading is that this is another variation on the swine flu, with human transmission, especially to young children.  But maybe our current vaccine protects against it?  Nope.  “The current seasonal influenza vaccine will not protect against H3N2v.”

So I’m left with the sense that we haven’t seen the news about this particular strain because the public health officials have used up their media time.  They’ve been saying the term pandemic too often, and at some point people just tune them out.    “Most experts predict that pandemic influenza is probably inevitable.”

Remember the last pandemic?  The terrible swine flu of 2009?  “The fourth flu pandemic of the last 100 years occurred in 2009. (The other three were in 1918, 1957, and 1968.)”  I remember the 1918 epidemic, but I haven’t heard about 1957 and 1968.  I do know that 1968 was the crowning achievement for the flu vaccine, with a great deal of protection provided.  Then they screwed it up in 1976, inoculating for a pandemic that never happened.  (History at Nieman Guide to Pandemics)

The pandemic of 2009 was truly terrifying but did not result in the end of civilization.  At the end only 18,000 deaths were reported, with any given year’s deaths from influenza between 30,000 and 60,000.

But wait!  They’ve now recalibrated the deaths attributable to that pandemic.  “a recent modeling study estimated the number of respiratory and cardiovascular deaths associated with this pandemic at 283,500—about 15 times higher.”  Given that modeling, I’d like to see how many deaths would be attributable to any given year’s flu.  By all global reports the 2009 pandemic wasn’t that bad.

So again, should we vaccinate with this year’s vaccine?  “This vaccine will not protect against H3N2v or H5N1.”  The first is the new swine flu, the second is the Avian flu, which is still out there, and has a 50% fatality rate.

Despite this year’s influenza not being effective for the new swine flu outbreak, the experts recommend vaccinating everyone over six months of age.  They base this on the idea that maybe this year’s flu won’t be either H3N2v or H5N1.

If the current influenza isn’t the new strains, it is the 2009 H1N1 and we should have already been exposed for the last three years, but don’t let that stop you from getting vaccinated again.  UNLESS… you happen to be over 65.  If you are over 65, you now need to realize that we haven’t been getting enough vaccine.

“The rates of hospitalization and death due to seasonal flu in elderly people have increased significantly in the last 20 years despite rising rates of vaccination” so we need to give more.  A study “compared the immunogenicity of a high-dose vaccine and a standard-dose vaccine in older adults and found that the level of antibody response was significantly higher with the high-dose vaccine.”

But if you can’t get the higher vaccine, “ACIP expresses no preference for standard-dose or high-dose vaccine for adults 65 years of age and older.”  Even though it works better, don’t wait around for the high-dose vaccine.  Go ahead and get the regular vaccine that isn’t effective for the new swine flu or avian flu and hasn’t been shown to help those over 65 against increased flu outbreaks?

And definitely get the vaccine if you are a health care worker.  “Starting in January 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will require hospitals to report how many of their health care workers are vaccinated. These rates will be publicly reported as a measure of hospital quality.”  The studies have found that the best way to get health care workers to vaccinate is to “requir(e) vaccination as a condition for employment.”

Forgive me, but if healthcare workers are aware that this year’s vaccine won’t protect against the current variation of swine flu, wouldn’t a higher measure of hospital quality be how many workers knew enough to take other precautions like masking and obsessive hand washing rather than rely on a vaccine that doesn’t have what it needs to protect them or their patients?

But the experts have spoken.  Vaccinate everyone, regardless.

It makes me ask the question:  under what circumstances would the experts recommend NOT vaccinating?  How about an outright egg allergy?  (All the vaccines are grown on egg).  Nope.  Vaccinate anyway.  “The ACIP recommends that if people experienced only hives after egg exposure, they should still receive the trivalent inactivated vaccine.”  So the possibility of anaphylactic death is not enough of a deterrent.  Ok.

Let’s just make this prediction.  In the future the experts will say you should always get your flu vaccine, no matter what.  Forget allergies, forget whether the vaccine is effective for the current flu, forget any studies that show it isn’t working in your age group.  Just get your vaccine.

Oh, and maybe someday we’ll make them free because “vaccination rates are even lower in low-income populations.”



  1. […] Will Getting the Flu Vaccine Protect Me From Getting The New Swine Flu? ( […]

  2. Honestly, it makes me think of all the animals that are living under horrendous circumstances in Factory Farms…you know, the ones that no one wants to think about while they’re eating that steak, those pork chops or that grilled chicken. Those same animals have also been pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to survive those grotesque circumstances they are living under. Is it any wonder that we’re “set up” for these pandemics? If you read my blog about “Why I don’t Eat Chicken” you’ll know that we’re causing this to ourselves due to Factory Farming. I personally do not feel comfortable with these vaccines because we don’t know the long term effects of them. That’s just my five cents. Nina

  3. I like the five cents comment. I guess the cost of thoughts is going up as well:)

    In terms of the animal farms, I don’t think there is anyone who claims the use of antibiotics is a good thing. It’s a problem because we aren’t creating humane environments and because of insulin resistance we continue to see people turning more and more to protein based diets. Protein could be plant based, but thanks to the “four food groups” and the lack of a true replacement program, we continue to think of protein as meat.

    So we need to recreate the idea of food as something that you live with rather than eat and excrete. I think really good people are working on pieces of this idea, but we lack a cohesive large-scale program.

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