WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- An 11-year-old boy in upstate New York has died of complications from the flu, despite getting the flu shot just a month after his 11th birthday.
- Luca Calanni died at Oishei Children’s Hospital on Saturday after coming down with the flu early last week, his mother, Ashley Calanni, told local news station WTKR.
- He was doing better after getting fluids when he was diagnosed with septic shock and later went into cardiac arrest.
Despite getting the seasonal flu vaccine, an 11-year-old boy in upstate New York died on Saturday from flu-related complications.
Luca Calanni contracted the flu earlier this month and his death raises questions about whether the vaccine will actually protect against the virus in the 2019-2020 season.
This season has already started “atypically” early, with at least 9.7 million reported flu illnesses so far. Calanni now adds to the 32 pediatric flu deaths that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already reported, the most in 16 seasons by this point in the season.
Experts say that this flu season is led by a strain of influenza B, which is unusual for this time of the year.
“It’s relatively common that we start the season with influenza A, and the influenza B season comes later,” Richard J. Webby, Ph.D., a researcher with the Department of Infectious Disease at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, told PEOPLE.
Influenza B strain is also less common than influenza A, which means people likely have built up fewer antibodies to fight the B strain. Since children have less exposure to any strains of the flu because of their shorter lifespans, they are most likely to contract the virus.
What also makes the matter complicated is that the flu vaccine this year is “not ideally matched” to this strain of influenza B, according to Webby. Each year, the vaccine is designed with four components — two influenza A antigens and two influenza B antigens — and “we’ve seen quite a bit of vaccine mismatch” to the strain that’s circulating this season.
“The flu vaccine is a good vaccine, but unfortunately it’s not a great vaccine,” he says. “So getting the vaccine is not a guarantee, unfortunately, that you won’t get the flu.”
But Webby is still encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
“It does reduce your chances of catching it, and if you do get sick, of getting very severely affected by the virus,” he says. “When we get vaccinated we make a lot of antibodies that will fight against the virus.”
People need to remember, though, that there’s still a possibility to catch the virus after getting the vaccine and to watch out for symptoms.
“Even when there’s an almost perfect match between the vaccine and virus, there’s still a chance of dying from the disease,” Webby adds.