Every year in the United States, influenza (flu) sickens millions, hospitalizes hundreds of thousands and kills thousands of people. Though they may not be the magic bullet some would like, when it comes to preventing flu, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend annual flu vaccination.

Changing vessels

Flu shots have been around for decades. Recently, there have been innovations and improvements to vaccines and vaccine technology. Flu vaccines now come as shots, as a nasal spray and even in a needle-free jet injector. Most vaccines are still made using traditional egg-based technology, but other technologies, like cell-based and recombinant technologies, have been adapted to produce flu vaccines with important advantages. High-dose vaccine creates a stronger immune response in older people. Coming soon is a flu vaccine using adjuvant, an additional vaccine component to provoke a stronger immune response.

"The flu vaccine is a valuable public health tool and yet only about half of Americans get vaccinated each year."

For the last decade, CDC has supported studies to determine how effective flu vaccines are each year. Results have shown that how well the vaccine works varies. When most circulating flu viruses are similar to the viruses used to develop vaccine, vaccine can reduce the risk of flu illness by 50 percent to 60 percent. But vaccine effectiveness can be lower in certain people, or against viruses that are different from the vaccine viruses.

Stopping more than sickness

These studies show the need for continued progress toward making flu vaccines more effective but they also help us to see the impact that vaccines have each year. Studies show flu vaccine prevents illnesses. It prevents medical visits from flu. It prevents hospitalizations. It protects a pregnant woman and even her baby after birth for several months. Studies even show that flu vaccine may prevent heart attacks in people with heart disease. The flu vaccine is a valuable public health tool and yet only about half of Americans get vaccinated each year.

Those who forego vaccination may argue that flu is not serious or that flu vaccines are not worthwhile. But every year, waves of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths take a terrible toll on families, communities and society. As a doctor, a scientist, a son, a husband and a father, I believe that the value of influenza vaccination is indisputable and that more people should get vaccinated. Flu season is upon us. Vaccine supply is plentiful. Vaccination to protect yourself, your family and your community is the responsible thing to do.