The flu vaccine is not as good as most people believe. This time of year public health officials are putting on a full court press to vaccinate children, older people and those with chronic diseases. Influenza is especially cruel to these groups. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has extended its guidelines to include all Americans older than six months.
Researchers combed the medical literature between 1967 and 2011. After reviewing over 5,000 articles they narrowed the analysis to 31 of the very best studies. These trials actually confirmed influenza infection through culture or a more sophisticated laboratory test. In the gold-standard randomized-controlled trials, the pooled efficacy was 59%. There was surprising variability in effectiveness from year to year. In some years, effectiveness was as low as 16% while other years it rose to 76%.
These trials did not include young children or senior citizens. Although older people are the most vulnerable to complications and death from influenza, there is not enough data to determine how effective flu shots are in this age group. The authors conclude with a plea for more effective vaccines that can protect a greater number of people from influenza infection.
[The Lancet Infectious Diseases, online Oct. 26, 2011]

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  1. blw

    My husband got the flu shot one month ago, He got a terrible cold a week later and after 1 1/2wks he got the full blown flu. Should he get a flu sot next year or not? So far he has been awful sick and high fever and chills for 5 days and counting.

  2. DAN R.

    Is there a quick and easy way to find out if one’s flu shot was effective? A few weeks ago my wife and I got our shots at the same time at a pharmacy. Her shot site showed a reaction after a day or two — red and warm to the touch. Mine did not, but I came down with a cold a day later. Somewhere I heard that if you get a flu shot and then come down with a cold, your body fights the cold and also the flu inoculation, rendering the inoculation ineffective.

  3. Jeff Martin,M.D.

    Why is it so hard to get good studies of flu shot effectiveness in the most vulnerable populations? Do we need to get NIH involved again like we did to reveal the hazards of estrogen replacemnent therapy? Jeff Martin,M.D.

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