Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?
Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against flu. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.
How do flu vaccines work?
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
What kinds of flu vaccines are available?
CDC recommends use of any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine during the 2018-2019 influenza season, including inactivated influenza vaccine [IIV], recombinant influenza vaccine [RIV], or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV). No preference is expressed for any influenza vaccine over another. Both trivalent (three-component) and quadrivalent (four-component) flu vaccines will be available.
Trivalent flu vaccines include:
- One standard-dose trivalent flu shot (IIV3) manufactured using virus grown in eggs. This shot (Afluria) can be given either with a needle (for people aged 5 years and older) or with a jet injector (or people aged 18 through 64 years only).
- A high-dose trivalent flu shot (Fluzone High-dose), approved for people 65 years and older.
- A trivalent flu shot made with adjuvant (Fluad), approved for people 65 years and older.
Quadrivalent flu vaccines include:
- Standard-dose quadrivalent flu shots that are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. These include Afluria Quadrivalent, Fluarix Quadrivalent, FluLaval Quadrivalent, and Fluzone Quadrivalent. Different flu shots are approved for different age groups. Some are approved for children as young as 6 months of age. Most flu shots are given in the arm (muscle) with a needle. One quadrivalent flu shot (Afluria Quadrivalent) can be given either with a needle (for people aged 5 years and older) or with a jet injector (for people aged 18 through 64 years only).
- A quadrivalent cell-based flu shot (Flucelvax Quadrivalent) containing virus grown in cell culture (that is egg-free), which is approved for people 4 years and older.
- A recombinant quadrivalent flu shot (Flublok Quadrivalent) approved for people 18 years and older.
Are any of the available flu vaccines recommended over others?
For the 2018-2019 flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends annual influenza vaccination for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed age-appropriate flu vaccine including inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV4) or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4) with no preference expressed for any one vaccine over another.
Who should get vaccinated this season?
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the United States to expand protection against the flu to more people.
Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. See People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications for a full list of age and health factors that confer increased risk.
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?
Different flu vaccines are approved for use in different age groups. In addition, some vaccines are not recommended for certain groups. Factors that can determine a person’s suitability for vaccination, or vaccination with a particular vaccine, include a person’s age, health (current and past) and any allergies to flu vaccine or its components.
- People who cannot get a flu shot
- People who should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot
When should I get vaccinated?
You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later.
Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?
A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and updated as needed to keep up with changing flu viruses. For the best protection, everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated annually.
Does flu vaccine work right away?
No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. That’s why it’s better to get vaccinated by the end of October, before the flu season really gets under way.
Influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary from year to year. The protection provided by a flu vaccine depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation. For more information, see Vaccine Effectiveness – How well does the Flu Vaccine Work.
Can I get seasonal flu even though I got a flu vaccine this year?
Yes. It’s possible to get sick with flu even if you have been vaccinated (although you won’t know for sure unless you get a flu test). This is possible for the following reasons:
- You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in you becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect you. (Antibodies that provide protection develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination.)
- You may be exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. A flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.
- Unfortunately, some people can become infected with a flu virus a flu vaccine is designed to protect against, despite getting vaccinated. Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, a flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.
What protection does the flu vaccine provide if I do get sick with flu?
Some people who get vaccinated may still get sick. However, flu vaccination has been shown in some studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick. A 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients. Another study in 2018 showed that a vaccinated adult who was hospitalized with flu was 59 percent less likely to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit than someone who had not been vaccinated. Among adults in the ICU with flu, vaccinated patients on average spent 4 fewer days in the hospital than those who were not vaccinated. In addition, it’s important to remember that flu vaccine protects against three or 4 different viruses and multiple viruses usually circulate during any one season. For these reasons, CDC continues to recommend flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older even if vaccine effectiveness against one or more viruses is reduced.
There are many reasons to get a flu vaccine each year. Below is a summary of the benefits of flu vaccination, and selected scientific studies that support these benefits.
- Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu.
- Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. For example, during 2016-2017, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.
- In seasons when the vaccine viruses matched circulating strains, flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 percent to 60 percent
- Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults, and older adults.
- Flu vaccine prevents tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. For example, during 2016-2017, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 85,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
- A 2014 studyExternal 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.
- In recent years, flu vaccines have reduced the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations among adultsExternal on average by about 40%.
- A 2018 study showed that from 2012 to 2015, flu vaccination among adults reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82 percent.
- Flu vaccination helps prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions.
- Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac eventsExternal among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year.
- Flu vaccination also has been shown in separate studies to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes External and chronic lung disease External.
- Vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy.
- Vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by up to one-half External.
- A 2018 studyExternal showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent.
- Getting vaccinated can also protect a baby after birth from flu. (Mom passes antibodies onto the developing baby during her pregnancy.)
- A number of studies have shown that in addition to helping to protect pregnant women, a flu vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth, when he or she is not old enough to be vaccinated.
- Flu vaccine can be life-saving in children.
- A 2017 study was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from influenza.
- Flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
- A 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.
- A 2018 studyExternal showed that among adults hospitalized with flu, vaccinated patients were 59 percent less likely to be admitted to the ICU than those who had not been vaccinated. Among adults in the ICU with flu, vaccinated patients on average spent 4 fewer days in the hospital than those who were not vaccinated.
- Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.