Flu Shots
Aging Matters

There's a lot of debate around flu shots, especially when discussing the effectiveness since the influenza virus changes from year to year. This means that medical experts need to study vaccination effectiveness every year to tell how well the immunization programs are working. And I suspect most of us do not know what the actual success rate of the vaccination will be.

The New England Journal of Medicine analyzed the results from the 2015-2016 flu season where the scientists used the Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness Network data, which kept records on children 6 months and older who showed up with respiratory infections that season. The medical profession expected better results but in children, it did not meet the expected goals. And the vaccine effectiveness was 48%.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) keeps records of flu shots from year to year to track its effectiveness. Here's a fun down for the last five:

  • 2012-2013: Vaccine Effectiveness was: 49%
  • 2013-2014: Vaccine Effectiveness was: 52%
  • 2014-2015: Vaccine Effectiveness was: 19%
  • 2015-2016: Vaccine Effectiveness was: 47%
  • 2016-2017: Vaccine Effectiveness was: 42%

According to my calculations, the effectiveness for the past five years is 41.8 percent. I find that less than reassuring -- more than half the time flu shots don't work. It makes me wonder, whether people who sign up (and pay for) flu shots realize their odds.

However, my friend who is a geriatrician says, "Vaccination for seasonal influenza can indeed be a confusing topic. Depending on the year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that every year, influenza affects 9-60 million Americans, causes 140,000-710,100 hospitalizations, and results in 12,000-56,000 deaths. (Influenza is more severe in some years than others.) Most people get better without needing hospitalization, but some people get very sick. Older adults are especially likely to get dangerously ill from catching the flu."

The geriatrician adds, "I agree with the CDC's recommendation: everyone over the age of 6 months should get their seasonal flu shot. In fact, I'm about to go get mine. As a healthy woman in her 40s, I'm not that concerned about getting dangerously ill from influenza. Instead, I get my annual flu shot because I want to minimize my chance of getting sick and perhaps exposing my older patients to influenza."

If you have concerns about getting vaccinated, please talk it over with your doctor. In next week's column, I offer more tips from my geriatrician friend and let you know how the flu shot protects you from influenza.

Sign up for AGE with PURPOSE, weekly Newsletter, send email to - Carol@Seniorcare.com.

Carol Marak, aging advocate, Seniorcare.com. She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.



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