What ‘a bad flu vaccine year’ means
What it doesn’t mean is that this year’s flu vaccine is harmful, or that it can give you the flu. It isn’t, and it won’t. What it does mean is that this year’s flu vaccine is not preventing infections as well as usual. Why not? Bad luck, pretty much. There are hundreds of flu strains circulating, and more arise by mutation all the time. There’s no way to vaccinate against all of them. Therefore, what the vaccine makers do is see which particular three or four strains are causing the most disease in Australia in their winter, because it’s usually those strains that cause the most trouble in the northern hemisphere six months later. They make an annual flu vaccine that protects against those three or four strains. (More on annual flu vaccines can be found in this post.)
Taking that vaccine usually reduces one’s risk of getting the flu by 60-90%, with 80% being an average year. This year the protection is much lower, under 50%. Why? One of the three strains causing real problems this year is a master mutator. It has changed itself enough that the protective cells the vaccine built up don’t ‘see’ the mutated virus well, and you are more likely to get sick. The good news is, if you get the vaccine you’re still likely to get less sick (shorter and lighter symptoms), as the protection does do some good.
Impact on prepping
Does this affect your prepping? In one way, it definitely should (in my opinion): Increase the level of vigilance against influenza infection. There are more sick people around this year spreading virus, and even if you get the vaccine it’s pretty easy to catch. The best protection is to not touch stuff that other people have touched, then touch your own face or food. Wash your hands with soap early and often. If you can’t do that, alcohol sanitizers will reduce your risk. (More on protection from infection can also be found in this article; even though it’s about pandemic flu, the lessons are still valid.)
Should you skip this vaccination? It’s up to you, of course. The trade you’re making if if you don’t get the vaccination is you lose the benefits of 1) The vaccination does reduce infections some, particularly against the two strains in this year’s shot that aren’t master mutators and 2) The mutated strain doesn’t make people as sick if they’ve been vaccinated. You gain the benefits of 1) You avoid the unpleasantness associated with getting the flu shot, and 2) If you do get the flu (and don’t die, which of course is most people who get flu), your long-term protection is better than if you had a vaccination instead.
What does this have to do with the SHTF Great Pandemic Flu scenarios?
Seasonal flu vaccinations, be they good or bad, have nothing to do with the really nasty, high fatality pandemic influenzas. A pandemic of this sort is a real risk (more in this article), but comes from a different sort of mutation of the flu virus. At present, there’s no significant dangerous pandemic threat in view. That at least is a Very Good Thing. Seasonal flu can make most people miserable for a few days; the great pandemic strains can kill millions.