Flu Shots Have Prevented Millions Of Illnesses And Thousands Of Hospitalizations In The Past Decade

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The flu shot has protected millions of Americans from disease, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2005 and 20011, the Americans who vaccinated themselves from the flu likely helped prevent about 13 million illnesses and more than 110,000 hospitalizations in the U.S.

“The vaccine’s not perfect,” one of the study’s authors, Carrie Reed — an epidemiologist with the CDC — explained. “But some protection is better than none. Up to about 18 percent of cases were actually averted by our vaccination program, which is a sizable number.”

Researchers analyzed national surveillance data to find the rate of illness and hospitalization during flu season, vaccination coverage, and vaccine effectiveness. They used those numbers calculate the “health care burden of flu cases that would have occurred in the absence of vaccination.”

That health burden was significant. Although the numbers varied from year to year, the absence of the flu shot would likely have led to a total of 13.6 million additional illnesses between 2005 and 2011. And an estimated additional 5.8 million people would have had to make trips to their doctor’s office during that time. Those numbers may have increased even further if the data from last winter had been available. The flu season of 2012-2013 was particularly severe, and the CDC ended up declaring it an “epidemic.”

Nevertheless, despite the federal health agency’s repeated recommendations, most Americans still aren’t getting their shots. A pervasive stigma against vaccinations has led many American parents to falsely assume that they’re not safe enough for their children, or that children’s recommended vaccination schedule isn’t spaced well enough. But those misconceptions can have serious consequences. Ninety percent of the kids who died from the flu this year didn’t get their shots.