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A Busy Time for the CDC

Posted: March 16, 2015, 10:52 a.m.
by Ana Vega.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention organization was quite active this flu season after a mismatch occurred between the predicted strains in this year’s vaccine and a predominate flu strain that was circulating the United States. The CDC performed constant communication with the public during this incident.

When health-related complications occur, especially those that involve a large population, it is vital for organizations to attend to the issue immediately to protect its reputation. Prompt and constant communication to the public avoids the cost of an organization becoming untrustworthy. In any field, trust is the key component to the organization’s survival.

Each year it is unknown whether the flu vaccine will protect individuals from the season’s strain. Scientists’ predictions have been generally accurate; yet, discrepancies in vaccines and actual flu strains do happen, but not very often, according to Mike Sennett, press officer for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.

Vaccines are made about four months in advance in order for them to be delivered on time. Even after careful testing, mistakes happen. According to Sennett, flu viruses change constantly, also known as a “drift.” The virus fluctuates season to season and can sometimes change within the course of one flu period. Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a mismatch between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.

“The drifted H3N2 viruses that are circulating this season were first detected during routine surveillance testing during late March 2014, after World Health Organization recommendations for the vaccine composition for the Northern Hemisphere for the 2014-2015 season had been made (in mid-February),” Sennett said. “At that time, just a very small number of these viruses had been found among the thousands of specimens that had been collected and tested, and there was no way to predict that they would circulate widely.”

When such incidents occur, the CDC posts media advisories regularly to its website as a way of staying in communication with the public and media. The website also offers digital press kits and a page dedicated to providing journalists with important, updated information in a timely matter.

“[This season] the media received the word very quickly and informed the public. When the vaccine was released with the same covered strains as last year, I, along with many other medical professionals, assumed there would be issues with non-covered strains due to yearly mutations. Every year there are strains of influenza A and B that are not covered by the vaccine,” Lee Rembert, Pharm.D., said.

Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was readily available to speak to various news outlets and fast about this specific occurrence. He spoke out about the mismatch and ways to keep the public safe. However, as for direct contact with health care professionals, there was a lack of communication.

“No direct contact [from the CDC] was made with me or any organization to my knowledge,” Rembert said. “I was informed by the media like the rest of the public prior to receiving any communications from my professional organizations. My wife works for a chain drug store, and they were simply given the order by their corporate office to keep giving flu shots.”

Once the public became aware, the government organization chose to communicate through different media, such as open phone conferences. On Jan. 9, it offered a tele-briefing that provided the latest updates on the flu season.

Along with connecting with the public during a crisis, the CDC shares important information in other ways. Approximately each Monday, the CDC adds a health-related piece to its “Have you Heard” page. The page covers topics ranging from the harmful effects of smoking to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

The CDC website also provides news release archives. The CDC has yet to produce a flu-related release in February, and only one release was published in January.

During this epidemic, the CDC communicated quickly through its website. It taught the public how to read potential flu symptoms and the best treatment plans. Through an infographic(link), the CDC provided a flow chart for those with symptoms to evaluate prior to a medical visit. The chart is meant to inform potential flu victims on whether or not to seek medical attention. When looking for answers to flu-related questions this season, visiting the CDC website offers many answers along with its experts’ best advice on how to protect the public from the flu.

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