How well do flu vaccines work?

gloved hands with vaccine syringe

Flu season is one of the most contagious and potentially deadly seasons of the year. Although COVID-19 has largely dominated the media of the last year, the flu has still continued to infect people. In order to guard against this, flu vaccines are made available. But in a time where more and more people are questioning the effectiveness of vaccines, it’s worth asking, how well do flu vaccines work? If you’re considering getting a flu vaccine, but are unsure as to whether or not it will make a difference, here’s what you need to know. 

How Well Do Flue Vaccines Work?

Every year the CDC studies and analyzes the effectiveness of flu vaccines in order to determine how well they guard against potential illness. While the effectiveness of flu vaccines tends to fluctuate from one year to another due to new strains developing, the CDC has noted that flu vaccines typically reduce the rate of infection by 40-60%.

While flu vaccines are extremely effective against some strains of the flu, they are less efficient against some others. For example, the current flu vaccines are typically extremely effective against influenza B and influenza A(H1N1), but they tend to be less effective against strains such as influenza A(H3N2). This is due in part to the fact that there are several factors that can determine vaccine efficiency. 

What Factors Determine Vaccine Efficiency?

There are several factors that can determine how well a flu vaccine works, including the person receiving the vaccine and the strain of flu circulating.

The Vaccine Recipient

The flu is a viral infection that targets the lungs, throat, and nose. So it stands to reason that the health of the vaccine recipient will play some part in how well their immune system can guard against whatever strain of influenza is circulating. Individuals with higher age or weight may be more susceptible to contracting the flu, even if they receive the vaccine. 

Furthermore, individuals who are high-risk due to prior vulnerabilities, such as smokers, asthmatics, etc., may have a harder time fighting off the viral infection due to having a compromised immune system. 

The Strain Of Flu

Another factor determining vaccine efficiency is what strain of flu is circulating each season. Just as each strain of influenza is slightly different, so are the vaccines used to guard against them. Vaccines that are well matched to the strain of flu that is prominent will be more effective than those that are a poor match. 

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for experts to identify which strain will be prominent, leading some individuals to receive a vaccine that is a poor match, especially early on in the flu season. 

That being said, there are still plenty of benefits you can receive from getting your annual flu shot. 

What Are The Benefits Of The Flu Vaccine?

While the flu vaccine will not prevent COVID-19, it will offer several benefits that make it worth your time to get. Here are a few of the benefits of the flu vaccine.

The Flu Vaccine Can Prevent You From Getting The Flu

Getting the flu vaccine can prevent sickness and protect you and your loved ones from contracting the infection. In the 2019-2020 flu season it was estimated that flu vaccines prevented:

  • 7.5 million influenza illnesses
  • 3.7 million flu-related medical visits
  • 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations
  • 6,300 flu-related deaths

Furthermore, during seasons where the flu vaccine was a closer match to the strain circulating the population, it was seen that 60% of patients avoided going to the doctor as opposed to 40% from seasons where there wasn’t a close vaccine match. 

It Can Reduce The Risk Of Hospitalization Due To Flu-Related Symptoms

Not only did the flu vaccine prevent an estimated 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations in the 2019-2020 season, but it has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the number of children at risk of needing pediatric intensive care. Studies showed that from 2010-2012 the vaccine reduced the risk of children being hospitalized from the flu by 74%.

It Is A Great Preventative Tool For Those With Chronic Health Conditions

Although individuals who have chronic health conditions are still at higher risk than those who don’t, the flu vaccine has been shown to greatly reduce the risk of contracting the flu, even in these individuals. 

Furthermore, the flu vaccination has been associated with a lower risk of other health conditions, including lower rates of certain cardiac events. It has also lowered the number of hospitalizations related to diabetes and chronic lung diseases. 

It Can Reduce The Severity Of The Flu If You Do Get Sick

A 2017 study showed that the flu vaccine helped to reduce flu-related deaths and hospitalizations. This resulted in patients who contracted the viral infection being 59% less likely to be emitted to the ICU due to their condition being less severe than those who did not receive the vaccine. 

It Can Protect Others

Since the flu is a viral infection, it is possible to contract it and carry the disease while remaining asymptomatic. This means that you can potentially spread the disease and infect others without ever realizing you’re sick. The flu helps mitigate these risks by protecting you from the flu. The flu vaccine drastically reduces the number of individuals who become infected without realizing it.

While you may be concerned about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine, studies have shown it to be an extremely effective way to fight off viral illness and protect the health of you and your loved ones. 

If you’re still concerned or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to consult your doctor or reach out to a qualified medical professional. When it comes to your health, it’s always better to ere on the side of caution and to make sure you are well-informed of any decision you make regarding your personal health.

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