Experts discuss the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine and what to expect during this year’s flu season.
The flu season is right around the corner. Flu season is unpredictable, but activity often begins to increase in Fall. As Americans roll up their sleeves to get their annual flu shot, one concern lingers: How effective will the vaccine be?. The answer, according to experts, is we couldn’t be certain — however, the vaccine is safe and your best defense against becoming seriously ill with influenza.
Why Should People Get Vaccinated Against Flu?
Influenza (flu) is a potentially fatal disease that can result in hospitalization and, in some cases, death. Every flu season is different, and its effects vary. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of people get the flu each year. Hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands to tens of thousands die from flu-related causes.
An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best defense against flu. Experts say that vaccination has reduced the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and even flu-related death in children. While some people who receive a flu vaccine may still become ill, several studies showed that flu vaccination reduces the severity of the disease.
Vaccine Effectiveness Fluctuates Every Year
Based on the CDC statistics for the efficacy of the flu vaccine, you can see how it has been protecting Americans from getting sick over the past few decades.
According to Richard Webby, Ph.D., an influenza expert at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The World Health Organization (WHO) has a network of approximately 148 laboratories in 120 countries that collect specimens from people experiencing flu-like symptoms during the typical flu season. They then analyze the samples and asks a pretty simple question: “Looking at the vaccine strains that we have now, how closely do those match the strains that we think are going to predominate in six months?.”
Each country develops vaccines they believe will be most beneficial to its population. According to Ada D. Stewart, M.D., The vaccines in the U.S. for this year are Quadrivalent Influenza Vaccine, which means they protect against four different strains of the flu, two types of influenza A and two types of influenza B. The CDC recommends using any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine during the 2021-2021 influenza season.
However, as seen in the recent COVID cases, new strains can emerge. According to Dr. Webby, the flu may still be circulating in another hemisphere. When it comes back, it may have gone in a slightly different direction than was anticipated, so we don’t get that perfect match between what’s in the vaccine and the circulating strains.
What To Expect This Year?
Last year, the U.S. had one of the mildest flu seasons in recent history. However, Dr. Anna Banerji, an epidemiologist, and pediatrician at the University of Toronto. “When you have a low year, usually the following year is a bad year, and when you look around the world, there’s a lot of influenza and RSV occurring.” Last year’s minimal flu season means that researchers had fewer data to use to create this year’s flu vaccine. “We have almost 100-fold less virologic information than we have had in the past, so with that, there is a little bit more uncertainty,” says Dr. Webby.
Dr. Webby and Dr. Stewart urge everyone to get the flu shot: “As we have seen with the COVID vaccine, even if the flu shot doesn’t keep you from getting infected, it certainly decreases your risk of getting severely sick,” says Dr. Webby.