Flu vaccine was disappointing vs. some strains last season

FILE - This Jan. 23, 2020 file photo shows a patient receiving a flu vaccination in Mesquite, Texas. According to a study released on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, flu vaccines for years were close to 60% effective against the flu strain that caused the most lab-confirmed illnesses last winter, but it proved only 31% effective last season. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
FILE - This Jan. 23, 2020 file photo shows a patient receiving a flu vaccination in Mesquite, Texas. According to a study released on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, flu vaccines for years were close to 60% effective against the flu strain that caused the most lab-confirmed illnesses last winter, but it proved only 31% effective last season. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NEW YORK – The flu vaccine did a disappointing job last winter in the U.S., and officials worry that might be a bad sign for the fall.

Flu vaccines had been about 60% effective against the type of flu that caused the most lab-confirmed illnesses last winter, but last season's vaccine was only about half that good, according to study results reported Wednesday.

Against another major type of flu, vaccines have already been only around 30% effective.

The new results may be a sign of shrinking effectiveness against a number of strains, and “that's concerning," said Brendan Flannery, who oversees the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s system for evaluating the vaccine.

The results come as health officials are gearing up for a critically important flu vaccination campaign, with a record 180 million doses being prepared. U.S. health officials fear a second wave of coronavirus infections, and reducing flu illnesses could help reduce patient traffic if COVID-19 causes doctors' offices and hospitals to become overwhelmed.

CDC numbers indicate that last winter's flu season caused somewhere in the neighborhood of 22 million medical visits, 575,000 hospitalizations and likely more than 40,000 deaths.

Vaccines against many infectious diseases aren’t considered successful unless they work at least 90% of the time, but flu is particularly challenging, partly because the virus can quickly change. Overall, flu vaccine effectiveness averages around 40%. Last season's was 39% overall.

Last winter's flu season featured two waves, each dominated by a different virus. Both flu bugs are considered dangerous to children, and it was a very bad flu season for kids.