Is the Influenza vaccine effective? Flu shot effectiveness and why you should get it

As flu season approaches, our attention turns to the vital question: Is the influenza vaccine effective? Understanding the impact of flu vaccination is crucial in making informed decisions about our health and the well-being of our community.


In this exploration, we’ll delve into the benefits of the flu shot, its effectiveness, and why getting vaccinated is a proactive step toward a healthier future.


Benefits of Flu Vaccination: Protecting Individuals and Communities

When discussing flu shots, it’s essential to highlight the myriad benefits that flu vaccination brings to individuals and the community at large. Scientific studies consistently support these benefits, showcasing the vital role of annual flu vaccination in safeguarding public health.


Flu vaccination serves as a robust defense, preventing millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits annually. In the 2019-2020 season, flu vaccination averted an estimated 7 million influenza illnesses, 3 million medical visits, 100,000 hospitalizations, and 7,000 deaths. During seasons with well-matched vaccine viruses, the risk of doctor visits due to flu is reduced by 40% to 60%.


Studies have consistently shown that flu vaccination diminishes the severity of illness in individuals who, despite being vaccinated, still contract the flu. A 2021 study revealed a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death among vaccinated adults hospitalized with flu.


Flu vaccination significantly reduces the risk of flu-associated hospitalization, preventing tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. From 2012 to 2015, vaccination among adults cut the risk of ICU admission with flu by 82%. For older adults, flu vaccines reduced the risk of flu-associated hospitalization by about 40% on average from 2010-2015.


Individuals with chronic health conditions benefit from flu vaccination, experiencing lower rates of cardiac events and reduced risk of flu-related worsening of chronic lung diseases. Pregnant women with flu shots during pregnancy show a reduced risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection by about one-half.


Flu vaccination during pregnancy protects both the pregnant person and their infants. Studies indicate a 40% reduction in the risk of hospitalization with flu for pregnant individuals from 2010-2016. Babies born to vaccinated mothers receive protection against flu for several months after birth, when they are too young to be vaccinated.


In essence, flu vaccination extends beyond individual health, playing a crucial role in building community resilience. By understanding and embracing the benefits of flu vaccination, we contribute to a healthier and more robust Gwinnett County. Join us in advocating for flu vaccination and creating a community where everyone can thrive.


How effective are flu vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts annual studies to gauge the effectiveness of influenza (flu) vaccines. Recent findings indicate that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by 40% to 60% among the overall population during seasons when the circulating flu viruses align with those used to create the vaccines.


It’s noteworthy that the effectiveness of current flu vaccines can vary based on the type or subtype of influenza viruses. They tend to work better against influenza B and influenza A(H1N1) viruses but offer less protection against influenza A(H3N2) viruses. This dynamic raises the question: Why is flu vaccine typically less effective against influenza A H3N2 viruses?


Factors Influencing Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

Several factors influence how well flu vaccines work, and understanding these nuances is crucial for informed decision-making. Two primary factors are:


  1. Characteristics of the Person Being Vaccinated: Age and health play pivotal roles in determining the likelihood that vaccination will protect an individual from flu illness. Different age groups and health statuses may experience varying levels of protection.
  2. Vaccine “Match” with Circulating Viruses: The effectiveness of flu vaccines relies on how well they match the flu viruses circulating in the community. A good match results in substantial benefits, preventing flu illness and complications. However, when vaccines are not well-matched to certain viruses, they may provide little or no protection against those specific strains.


Flu Vaccines Effectiveness Explored

One common misconception about flu vaccines is that they provide a blanket shield against all viruses causing flu-like symptoms. In reality, seasonal flu vaccines are meticulously designed to safeguard against specific flu viruses projected to be prevalent in an upcoming flu season. Unfortunately, they do not offer protection against various other viruses capable of inducing flu-like illness.


For example, non-influenza viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19), rhinovirus (a common cause of the “common cold”) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is a major cause of severe respiratory illness in both young children and adults aged 65 and over. These viruses circulate together with influenza viruses during the flu season.


Flu vaccine (VE) is also not the same for all influenza virus types or subtypes. Even when the viruses used to formulate vaccines are a good match for circulating influenza viruses, the level of protection can vary. Since 2009, VE studies have consistently shown varying levels of efficacy against different influenza viruses.


Studies show that flu vaccines tend to perform better against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses and influenza B viruses. A metanalysis of 76 published VE studies post the 2009-2010 flu pandemic revealed that, on average, flu vaccines provided a 56% effectiveness against influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 viruses and 42% against influenza B viruses in the Northern Hemisphere.


 In contrast, flu vaccines have shown lower effectiveness against influenza A(H3N2) viruses, with a pooled VE estimate of 22% in the Northern Hemisphere.


Why You Should Get Vaccinated

Despite variations in effectiveness, getting the flu shot remains a crucial step in preventing flu-related illnesses and complications. The vaccine not only protects individuals but also contributes to community-wide immunity, reducing the overall spread of influenza.


At Gwinnett Coalition, we emphasize the importance of flu vaccination in building a resilient community. Our commitment extends to providing information, resources, and support for individuals in Gwinnett County to access and benefit from flu vaccination.


If you want to get a flu shot, go to Gwinnett Health Finder and find it. This will help you stay healthy and keep our community strong during flu season.