Seasonal Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

While how well the flu vaccine works can vary from year to year and among different age and risk groups, there are a lot of reasons to get a flu vaccine each year.

  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also protects the people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.

  • Flu vaccination can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than 6 months old who are too young to get vaccinated).

  • Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick

  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes, like hospitalizations

  • A recent study* showed that flu vaccine reduced children's risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.

  • One study showed that flu vaccination was associated with a 71% reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77% reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.

  • Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%).

  • Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu.

  • Other studies have shown that vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations in older adults. A study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness over the course of three flu seasons estimated that flu vaccination lowered the risk of hospitalizations by 61% in people 50 years of age and older.

Will this season's vaccine be a good match for circulating viruses?
It's not possible to predict with certainty which flu viruses will predominate during a given season. Over the course of a flu season, CDC studies samples of flu viruses circulating during that season to evaluate how close a match there is between viruses used to make the vaccine and circulating viruses. Data are published in the weekly FluView. In addition, CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the vaccine protects against illness during that season. The results of these studies are typically published following the conclusion of the flu season and take into consideration all of the data collected during the season. Interim preliminary estimates of the vaccine's benefits that season using data available at that time also may be provided.

Flu viruses are constantly changing (called "antigenic drift") - they can change from one season to the next or they can even change within the course of one flu season. Experts must pick which viruses to include in the vaccine many months in advance in order for vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a less than optimal match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine.

Can the vaccine provide protection even if the vaccine is not a "good" match?
Yes, antibodies made in response to vaccination with one flu virus can sometimes provide protection against different but related viruses. A less than optimal match may result in reduced vaccine effectiveness against the virus that is different from what is in the vaccine, but it can still provide some protection against influenza illness.

In addition, even when there is a less than optimal match or lower effectiveness against one virus, it's important to remember that the flu vaccine is designed to protect against three or four flu viruses, depending on the vaccine.

For these reasons, even during seasons when there is a less than optimal match, CDC continues to recommend flu vaccination. This is particularly important for people at high risk for serious flu complications, and their close contacts.

Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been 'inactivated' and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened), and therefore cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures found within the nose. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.

While a flu vaccine cannot give you flu illness, there are different side effects that may be associated with getting a flu shot or a nasal spray flu vaccine. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of bad case of flu.

For more information about the flu, please visit CDC.gov.
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