Ineffective flu vaccine partly responsible for spike in flu deaths

The number of Canadians who died from the flu virus this past winter spiked at 547 — that's 200 more deaths than last flu season, and some experts say that's in part because this year's flu vaccine did not capture the dominant strain.

Health experts call on pharmaceutical companies to develop better flu shots

A study found that this year's flu vaccine offered most people virtually no protection against H3N2 - the flu strain that hit most Canadians. (Valentin Flauraud/Reuters)

The number of Canadians who died from the flu virus this past winter spiked at 547 — that's 200 more deaths than last flu season.

Health officials say this season's influenza vaccine didn't protect against the strain of the virus that infected many Canadians.

"Obviously, that's not the only factor at play, but with no protection from the vaccine, the death toll will always be higher," said Dr. Gaston Deserres, an infectious disease specialist in Quebec City.

In January, a study based on data from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec found the vaccine offered most people virtually no protection against H3N2 — the strain that caused the lion's share of illness this past winter.

"If the vaccine had been protective, we would have seen a smaller number of deaths," Deserres said.

Calls for better flu shots

Every year, a flu vaccine is created based on predictions made by the World Health Organization. The WHO forecasts which strains of the virus are most likely to predominate during flu season, which generally begins around November.

"We hope that next year, we will have a vaccine that will be more effective because the solution to that is proper immunization with the right vaccine," said Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette.

For that to happen, Deserres said there needs to be a flu vaccine that will protect against several strains of the flu — not just one.

"At this time, we are using technology that was developed in the 1940s and hasn't improved," he said.

Deserres said governments need to push pharmaceutical companies to develop a better vaccine.

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