RIDOH: Flu shots up 10% this year, vaccine covers predominant strain

FLU VACCINES are up 10 percent over last year, a good sign for this year's flu season, the R.I. Department of Health reports. / COURTESY CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
FLU VACCINES are up 10 percent over last year, a good sign for this year's flu season, the R.I. Department of Health reports. / COURTESY CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION

PROVIDENCE — The recurring flu virus strain, H1N1, is predominant this flu season, which bodes well for Rhode Island as about 10 percent more people in the Ocean State this year have received the vaccine providing protection against that strain and three others.

At least 378,634 doses of flu vaccine have been administered in Rhode Island, said Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the R.I. Department of Health. That’s roughly a 10 percent increase over last year at this time, he said.

That figure includes doses administered at CVS Health Corp.’s pharmacies, but not Walgreens Co. or Stop & Shop Co., Wendelken said, so the numbers of vaccinated people may be more positive than their numbers show.

“The more people vaccinated the better. Vaccine is the single best protection against the flu year in and year out,” Wendelken said.

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Flu cases in Rhode Island remain widespread at about 2.7 percent of patient visits attributed to flu-like illness.

The flu season has been a H1N1 predominate season in Rhode Island as well, he noted. “We can say this based on the lab tests that are done here and at the hospitals in Rhode Island,” Wendelken said.

H1N1 is the dominant strain in the Northeast and much of the United States this flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Influenza A(H3N2) viruses have predominated in the southeastern United States. This year’s quadrivalent (protecting against four virus strains) flu vaccine protects against four strains of flu, including H1N1 and H3N2:

  • A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • A/Singapore/INFIMH-16-0019/2016 A(H3N2)-like virus (updated)
  • B/Colorado/06/2017-like (Victoria lineage) virus (updated)
  • B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus

This year, there have been 13 pediatric deaths related to the flu, according to the CDC. In Rhode Island, there have been two influenza-related deaths, both elderly, according to the RIDOH.

H1N1, also known as Swine Flu, was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009, the CDC reports. The World Health Organization declared a pandemic outbreak of this strain of flu in 2009.

The virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed many of the genes in the virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. Further study showed the 2009 actually has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia as well as bird genes and human genes. The combination is what scientists call this a “quadruple reassortant” virus, according to the CDC.

RIDOH recommends that everyone older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. In addition to health care workers, vaccination is particularly important for pregnant women, younger children, people over the age of 50, nursing home or group home residents, and people with chronic conditions, such as heart, lung, or kidney disease; diabetes; asthma; anemia; blood disorders; or weakened immune systems. Flu shots are available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Borkowski@PBN.com.