US Pharm. 2016;41(4):1.
Politicians and media types are often all too quick to assign blame to the pharmaceutical industry, and they are helped by such highly publicized cases as that of Martin Shkreli, the former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals. Turing purchased the rights to Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug for treating a parasitic infection, and promptly increased the price to $750 a dose. Testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in February, Mr. Shkreli refused to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. This presents a far from positive image for the industry, to be sure.
The pharmaceutical industry also frequently takes a hit for its supposed excessive influence on politicians, including presidential candidates. During the recent debates, in particular the Democratic contests, the industry was often lumped in with Wall Street in accusations of Washington influence-peddling.
When pharmacy notches a success, therefore, we should acknowledge it in the interest of fairness. That’s partly why I recently took notice that this season’s flu vaccine is much more effective than last year’s vaccine, which was not particularly potent. The CDC reports a preliminary overall influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) of 59% this season, compared to the approximately 23% VE of last season. For perspective, the VE has been as high as 60% (in 2010-2011) and as low as 21% (in 2005-2006). Interim estimates are based on data collected from the U.S. Flu VE Network.
The VE data were presented at a February meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices in Atlanta. According to the agency, the VE this season was 51% against the H1N1 viruses that caused most flu illness this season; 76% against all influenza B viruses; and 79% against the B/Yamagata viruses. For the U.S. population, this means that taking the vaccine lowers the likelihood that one will need to visit the doctor because of influenza infection by nearly 60%—excellent odds by any measure!
Save for a couple of uncharacteristic colds last month, I seem to have escaped the flu once again this year despite not getting a flu shot. If I’d known about these VE statistics earlier, however, I would certainly have taken the shot, choosing to benefit from the nearly two-thirds favorable odds. The minor inconvenience of scheduling a flu shot pales in comparison to the often devastating health effects of the flu itself. Taking advantage of flu shots is easier than ever before, thanks in part to pharmacy-based clinics. Currently, pharmacists are allowed to administer flu vaccines in all 50 states.
At the February meeting in Atlanta, Joseph Bresee, MD, chief of the CDC’s epidemiology and prevention branch, amended language related to flu vaccine recommendations for egg-allergic patients so that they too may now receive the live attenuated influenza vaccine. Dr. Bresee also indicated that the flu activity this season got off to a late start and had been lower than that of the previous three flu seasons. Nevertheless, complacency can be dangerous, even deadly, he pointed out. “Flu causes serious illnesses and deaths every year. This season, CDC has received reports of hospitalizations and deaths in young, otherwise healthy people who were infected with influenza A H1N1, but not vaccinated.”
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get an annual flu shot, but usually only about half of Americans do. In fact, from 2009 to 2014, just 37.2% to 43.2% of adults received influenza vaccines, according to a report published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
For my part, I plan on getting the flu vaccine next year, no matter the odds of effectiveness. I also plan on touting the industry’s many successes, which vastly outnumber negative news reports, whenever they come to light.
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