Senior couple walking

How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts studies each year to determine how well the influenza (flu) vaccine protects against flu illness. Reports indicate that last year’s seasonal flu vaccine effectiveness was just 42 percent. Even if vaccinated, people had inadequate protection against the flu.

At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community.

It’s still early, but experts believe we may be facing a tough flu season and not only because of vaccine concerns. Unfortunately, recent reports indicate the flu vaccine may only be about 10 percent effective this year.

Though last year’s vaccine was mostly ineffective in thwarting the flu, it still prevented nearly 30 percent of hospitalizations that might have resulted, according to CDC calculations. For older adults, that rate was even higher, at 37 percent. Plus, the vaccine reduced outpatient visits by 42 percent last season. These numbers emphasize the importance of getting a flu shot, especially for older adults.

Even months after recovering from the flu, older people remain at increased risk for a heart attack, stroke or disability. Seniors account for over half of flu-related hospitalizations caused by influenza and more than 80 percent of flu-related deaths, according to Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. “We all know about the illness influenza causes – obviously fever and making you feel poorly, aches and pains – and that is because it sets up a systemic inflammatory response,” he said. “Not as well known: In the two weeks to a month after you recover from influenza, you have a three to five times increased risk of having a heart attack. You have a two to three times increased risk of having a stroke.” He emphasized the importance of seniors getting their flu shot. Read more.

The flu vaccine remains the best way to protect the ones you love from influenza, especially seniors. Individuals aged 65 years and older and those with certain chronic medical conditions become high-risk patients if they develop serious flu-related complications.

CNN recently ran an article to help explain the vaccine effectiveness and variance as well as how well vaccines are predicted to match circulating virus strains. Read more. To learn more about vaccine effectiveness, visit the CDC website

Great Plains Quality Innovation Network is actively working with providers, patients, partners and stakeholders to implement best practices to increase immunization rates. We offer a wealth of free evidence-based resources to promote best practices, guidelines and tools to break down barriers to care. We have also convened a Learning and Action Network (LAN) to give providers, community organizations and patients the opportunity to share and learn. Together, we play an important role in helping to educate the healthcare community and patients about immunization recommendations. Join our Learning and Action Network today.