This year’s flu season is the worst in a decade. North Carolina has seen 165 deaths since flu season began in October.
When epidemiologists start to create flu vaccines for the following season – usually around this time of year – they must account for several different strains of the flu. That’s because a person can contract any one of the strains – type A or type B – during flu season.
Art Frampton, a virologist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, says this season’s active strains are H1N1, two type B strains, and the one causing most the problems, H3N2. Frampton says a mutation occurred during the growth of the vaccine in eggs and accounts for this year’s mismatch on H3N2.
"Everybody who's immunized against H3N2, they're actually exposed to a different wild type H3N2. So you're not protected or less protected, because now that virus is changed, there's not a good match. And H3N2 is causing a lot of the illness and a lot of the deaths that are occurring this year."
But even with the “wild strain” of H3N2 circulating, Frampton says the shot is the best defense against contracting any strain of the flu and passing it along to others in the community.
When asked if people can get the flu from the vaccine, Frampton says an unequivocal: No. This year’s shot is a dead virus – which means it is biologically impossible to contract the flu from the vaccine.
The conversation with UNCW Virologist Art Frampton was part of a recent edition of CoastLine – which you can find here.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent report from North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services.