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Flu Vaccine Not Effective for Seniors

Posted at: 02/22/2013 6:40 PM
By: Jenna Lohse

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- The worst of the flu has come and gone, but lots of people are still getting sick. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu is taking its heaviest toll from senior citizens.

"As a senior citizen I don't have the get up and go that I had," said Darlean Smith, Member of The Rochester Senior Center.

Darlean Smith volunteers at the Rochester Senior Center, but for the past month she's had to stay out of the kitchen.

"It hit so fast and so hard," said Smith.

Smith was one of many seniors who got the flu shot, but still got sick. Matter of fact, according to a new report from the CDC, this seasons' flu shot was only 9 percent effective in older people.

"I think it's important to put that into perspective, so what the CDC did was an effectiveness study looking only at outpatient medical visits," said Dr. Greg Poland, Director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group.

Poland says the CDC study was limited, it included a very small group of people and looked only at outpatient visits.

"This year’s vaccine may just be one that elderly people don't respond to as well and the 2nd thing is these viruses are not stable viruses they constantly shift and drift and mutate and what may very well be happening is that the virus that's in the vaccine we give may slowly be getting different than the virus that's circulating," said Poland.

"Probably about 10 to 15 that we had who have come out with the influenza and most of them did yes have the vaccine," said Morgan Grabinoski, Nurse at Prairie River Home Care.

Morgan Grabinoski says people over the age of 65 also generally have weaker immune systems.

"I think because they have underlying diseases and they are less active most the time and they're nutrition isn't probably as well and they live in close quarters in nursing homes and assisted living," said Grabinoski.

Which may be one reason why Darlean Smith says she'll continue to do everything she can, to not get sick again.

"You try to do the best you can. Keeping washing your hands and getting lots of rest," said Smith.

Despite the vaccine's low effective rate with seniors, the CDC stands by its recommendation to get flu shots, senior citizens included, because some protection is better than none. The CDC also says those who are vaccinated and still get sick may suffer less severe symptoms.