Expert: Flu vaccine needs an overhaul

7:12 AM, Dec 5, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS News) The flu season usually doesn't kick into high gear until after Christmas, but almost every state is reporting cases of it already.

Five southern states, including Texas, are showing the highest rates of suspected cases. In Tennesse, schools in three counties have been shut down.

Dr. Adam Murdock is already treating two flu patients a day at his Dallas clinic. Last year at this time he wasn't seeing that many in a week.

"The fact that we've seen an uptick this early in the season means that potentially this could be a bad flu season," Murdock said.

The best way to prevent flu-like illness, Murdock said, is the flu vaccine.

"But it is not 100-percent preventative," he said.

Michael Osterholm, who specializes in infectious diseases, says the vaccine is roughly 60 to 70 percent effective in healthy adults. Osterholm studied medical records and flu studies dating back to 1936 and determined the nation's flu vaccine program needs to be overhauled.

"If we don't change our current vaccines, we will have some protection, but we will in two ways miss two very important goals: one, protecting old people at the highest risk of death and two, when the next pandemic emerges, we will miss the opportunity to protect against pandemic," he said.

The report calls current vaccine production -- which involves growing viruses in chicken eggs -- slow, inexact and outdated.

Researchers also found the flu vaccine is most effective in children, but offers little to no protection in those 65 and older. Even though a growing number get vaccinated, deaths from the flu haven't decreased. Ninety percent of deaths in a typical flu season occur in the elderly.

Despite his concerns, Osterholm still recommends that people do get the flu vaccine. He says the vaccination is safe that some protection is better than none.

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