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Flu vaccine falls short in protecting seniors

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Flu vaccine falls short in protecting seniors

CREATED Feb. 22, 2013

Reporter: Cory Marshall

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - You may flinch and squint, but all the while you're hoping this year's flu vaccine will fight off any impending influenza virus floating around. 

"We definitely haven't gotten the flu so it worked for us," Tucson resident Sarah Lee told 9OYS as her two children hid behind her. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, this year's flu vaccine is providing moderate protection against the season's harshest flu strand, with 56 percent overall effectiveness. 

But there is one major exception. 

CDC officials say this season's vaccine is only 27 percent effective for those 65 and older, the lowest percentage in nearly a decade. 

"It just seems like for H3N2, specifically this year, when given to older adults it didn't seem to provide enough protection or really prevent them from getting sick," said Shoana Anderson of the Arizona Department of Health Services.

There is some good news. Anderson says the current flu vaccination is proving to protect older adults against flu strain B.

ADHS officials say each person's body reacts differently to the vaccination depending on the person's age. What is more, an individual's immune system also declines with age.

Translation? Seniors who get the flu vaccine are building the necessary antibodies needed to ward off the virus, they're just not making as much. 

"You got the flu shot and you still got sick. Are you surprised?," Nine On Your Side's Cory Marshall asked Tucson resident, Richard Mattle.

"I'm sick at the moment now," Mattle said. Yep, and I am surprised." 

"I didn't think I'd get sick. I haven't been sick in years," he continued. 

Still, experts urge seniors to get the shot -- admitting a stronger strand for people 65 and up may be needed. 

"Obviously, we here at the health department want a vaccine that works as well as to protect as many people as possible. That's really important for us," Anderson said.