A Brooklyn oldster winced when getting the shot in January.


ATLANTA - This year's flu shot is doing a dismal job of protecting older people from the harshest strain this season, proving only 9 percent effective, the government said Thursday.

Flu vaccine tends to protect younger people better than older ones and never works as well as other kinds of vaccines. But experts say the preliminary results for seniors highlight the urgent need for a better vaccine.

Overall, the vaccine's effectiveness is 56 percent, which means those who got a shot have a 56 percent lower chance of getting the flu. That is nearly as good as other flu seasons, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

For those 65 and older, it offers far less protection. It is 27 percent effective against the three strains in the vaccine, the lowest in about a decade. The vaccine did a particularly poor job of protecting older people against the toughest flu bug, which is causing more than three-quarters of the illnesses this year. CDC officials say it's not clear why.

Vaccinations are recommended for anyone over 6 months, and health officials stress that some vaccine protection is better than none at all.

While it's likely that older people who were vaccinated are still getting sick, many of them may be getting less severe symptoms.

"Year in and year out, the vaccine is the best protection we have," and vaccinations are still recommended for seniors, said CDC flu expert Dr. Joseph Bresee.

The preliminary findings for seniors are less than definitive; they're based on fewer than 300 people scattered among five states.

On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.