Yearly influenza (flu) vaccination is recommended for all people aged 6 months and older. Flu vaccination is still the best tool we have to help prevent against the flu. Even though the flu vaccine varies in how well it works each season, getting the flu vaccine every year helps:
- Keep you from getting sick with flu.
- Reduce the severity of your illness if you got vaccinated, but still get sick from flu.
- Reduce the risk of children dying from flu.
- Reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults, and older adults.
- Help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness due to age and/or certain chronic health conditions.
- Be an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions.
- Help protect women during and after pregnancy.
While flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season varies from one season to another. (See information about current flu activity in the U.S. below.)
Every year, new flu vaccines are created to help protect against the viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Trivalent flu vaccines help protect against three flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. Quadrivalent flu vaccines protect against four flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and two influenza B viruses. Visit CDC’s website to learn more about the flu vaccine.
For the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC and its advisory committee (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommend that people get any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine with no preference expressed for one vaccine over another.
- LAIV4, also known as “the nasal spray” or FluMist, is once again a recommended option for healthy, non-pregnant people between 2 and 49 years old.
You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the vaccine to take effect. The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, but getting vaccinated later in the season can still be beneficial. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for protection from flu. Children who need two doses of flu vaccine should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
A CDC study published in Pediatrics showed that flu vaccination can be life-saving for children. The study found that half of flu-related deaths in children from 2010 to 2016 occurred in otherwise healthy children, only 22% of whom were fully vaccinated. The same study also showed antiviral treatment was only given in about half of all pediatric flu deaths. Nearly two-thirds of children died within seven days of developing symptoms.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, your family should take everyday precautions such as covering your cough and sneeze, washing your hands often, staying home from work and/or school when sick, and staying away from sick people.
Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu® and the recently licensed Xofluza® are also available for treatment of the flu. If taken early (AS SOON AS YOUR SYMPTOMS BEGIN), antivirals can lessen symptoms, shorten duration of illness, and help prevent severe illness and flu complications. But, not everyone needs to get antivirals. The people recommended to get antivirals are those who are at higher risk of complications and severe illness from flu including those 65 years and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. CDC recommends that healthcare providers treat patients with antivirals as soon as they suspect influenza, and should not wait for confirmation from lab tests.
Flu Activity in the U.S. (Updated on March 20, 2019)
According to the CDC, flu activity slightly decreased, but still remains high in the United States. Influenza A(H1N1), influenza A(H3N2), and influenza B viruses are all circulating. Nationally, influenza A(H3) viruses were reported most frequently to the CDC. The highest rate of hospitalization is currently among adults 65 years and older, followed by children 0 to 4 years old, and then adults 50 to 64 years old. Sadly, a total of 68 flu-associated pediatric deaths have been reported to CDC so far during the 2018-2019 season.
On February 14, 2019, the CDC released the Interim Estimates of 2018–19 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness. In the article, the CDC states “Vaccination remains the best method for preventing influenza and its potentially serious complications, including those that can result in hospitalization and death. In particular, vaccination has been found to reduce the risk for influenza-associated deaths in children. During past seasons, including the 2017–18 season, approximately 80% of reported pediatric influenza-associated deaths have occurred in children who were not vaccinated. Vaccination also has been found to reduce the risk for influenza-associated hospitalization in pregnant women and can reduce the risk for cardiac events among persons with heart disease.”