By Ann A. Kiessling, Ph.D.
From a public health perspective, the more people immune to multiple descendants of the H1N1 (hemagglutinin/neuraminidase) influenza virus, the less likely the world will see a recurrence of the flu pandemic of 1918-1919, which killed many more people world-wide than World War 1. Nearly half of U.S. soldiers fighting in the war died of influenza, rather than enemy fire. One third of the world’s population (ca 0.5 billion) became infected, 28% of Americans, and 2.5% died, most notably and surprisingly in the 24 to 35 year old population. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/12/1/pdfs/05-0979.pdf
The devastation of this pandemic drives major research efforts around the globe to uncover what about the virus at that time caused such rapid death. To this end, the 1918 H1N1 virus was reconstructed in 2005 in specialized laboratories, amid much controversy, with the goal of discovering important preventive measures. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/1918flupandemic.htm
Independent of the H1N1 virus reconstruction research, the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Control of Influenza, located at CDC, continually characterizes influenza virus isolates from laboratories worldwide. Each year, a meeting is held to review the data and decide what formulation of flu virus to prepare for the following year. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6436a4.htm For the 2015-2016 flu season, the “trivalent” vaccine administered to most people in both the northern and southern hemispheres is A/California (H1N1) virus, plus A/Switzerland (H3N2) virus, and B/Phuket/Yamagata lineage virus. For persons at increased risk for serious consequences from a flu infection, influenza B Victoria is added to create a “quadrivalent” vaccine.
Bedford Board of Health purchases both trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines through a revolving account funded by health insurance reimbursements. Bedford residents without health insurance receive flu vaccinations free of charge. Each fall, the Board of Health holds a Town Wide Clinic at the Middle School, which is also Bedford’s Emergency Dispensing Site (EDS), in addition to smaller flu vaccination clinics at the Council on Aging, Ashby Place, Bedford Plaza Hotel, Bedford Village and the Board of Health offices.
According to Heidi Porter, “It is not too late to receive a flu shot as the flu season carries well into the spring.” To make an appointment at the Board of Health office, phone 781-275-6507 and ask for Board of Health Nurse, Joyce Cheng.