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NY flu cases up last week as feds say vaccine 36% effective

Pharmacist Gregory Lachhman administers a flu shot to

Pharmacist Gregory Lachhman administers a flu shot to Coleen Petersen, of West Hempstead, during a free flu shot drive by Rite Aid at Molloy College on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2018. Credit: Johnny Milano

Hospitalizations for the flu declined for the first time in New York last week, ending a streak of record-breaking highs, even as the number of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza rose again statewide.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced updated flu statistics Thursday in Albany as federal health officials in Washington, D.C., released their interim data on the flu vaccine’s adequacy so far this season. The vaccine has been about 25 percent effective in preventing the fiercest flu strain — H3N2 — which is causing the vast majority of recorded illnesses.

However, in children under age 8, the vaccine has had an overall effectiveness of 59 percent against flu infection, the newly released figures show. Three-quarters of people of all ages who’ve died of flu complications in the current epidemic were not vaccinated, federal health authorities said.

Government officials in New York continued Thursday to spread the word about vaccination.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure the availability and affordability of the flu vaccine, and I encourage everyone to stay vigilant and get vaccinated,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The good news in New York: Hospitalizations declined 3 percent last week, according to data from the State Health Department, but that improvement was offset by the number of lab-confirmed cases, which jumped by 7 percent to 16,804, the highest weekly figure in that category since reporting began in 2004.

Five children have died in the state of influenza.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, has been examining how well the vaccine stimulates immunity against four strains of the flu virus: two A strains, H3N2, the one at the core of hundreds of thousands of serious illnesses and deaths, and H1N1; and two influenza B strains.

Federal health officials said despite the vaccine’s lower-than-hoped-for effectiveness against H3N2, people who had been vaccinated and caught the flu had a milder course of illness than those were not immunized. The immunization is 36 percent effective overall. The vaccine was more effective at stimulating immunity against H1N1 and influenza B, federal health officials said.

Many children who were vaccinated have remained infection free.

“Vaccine performance in children was better than we expected,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s acting director said during a live-streamed news briefing.

For children, “the vaccine was effective against influenza A and B,” she said.

The agency’s long-awaited assessment published Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, covered the vaccine’s impact from the start of flu season on Oct. 1 through Feb. 3.

Flu vaccine effectiveness varies from season to season. In the 2014-2015 flu season the vaccine was only 19 percent effective compared with 60 percent in 2010-2011. Influenza and its complications claimed the lives of about 4,000 people a week in January, according to CDC data.

It is impossible “to predict how long the season will continue,” Schuchat said, “but we are probably looking at several more weeks of intense activity.”