December 12, 2013
2 min read

CDC: Flu vaccine prevented 6.6 million illnesses last season

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Influenza vaccination prevented an estimated 6.6 million influenza-associated illnesses and 79,000 hospitalizations during the 2012-2013 influenza season, according to a CDC report in MMWR.

Children aged 6 months to 4 years and adults aged at least 65 years accounted for an estimated 69% of the prevented hospitalizations, according to the report.

The estimated benefits of the influenza vaccine last season are higher than any other season for which the CDC has produced estimates, according to the report. The high numbers are attributed to a severe season. CDC typically estimates influenza being responsible for 200,000 hospitalizations each season, based on data from previous seasons. Last year, there were an estimated 381,000 influenza-related hospitalizations in the United States.

In addition, the CDC estimated that there were 31.8 million influenza-associated illnesses and 14.4 million medically attended illnesses last season. If 70% of the population had been vaccinated last season, as opposed to the 44.7% actual vaccine coverage, another 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 1.8 million medically attended illnesses and 30,000 hospitalizations could have been prevented.

“The estimated number of hospitalizations reinforces what we have always know about flu,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said during a media briefing. “It is highly variable and can be very serious. Most of the estimated hospitalizations last season were in people 65 and older. This shows how hard a severe H3N2 season can hit this vulnerable group.”

Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH 

Thomas Frieden

There also were 169 deaths among children reported to the CDC, the highest number in a non-pandemic season since this type of reporting began in 2004, Frieden said.

Despite the benefit of the influenza vaccination, CDC estimates that only 40% of Americans aged at least 6 months have received a vaccine for the 2013-2014 season, as of early November, which is similar to vaccination coverage last year. Vaccination estimates among pregnant women is 41%, and among health care workers, vaccination estimates are 63%.

“We are happy that annual flu vaccination is becoming a habit for many people, but there is still much room for improvement,” Anne Schuchat, MD, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during the media briefing. “The bottom line is that influenza can cause a tremendous amount of illness and can be severe. Even when our flu vaccines are not as effective as we want them to be, they can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and flu-related hospitalizations and death.”

Anne Schuchat, MD 

Anne Schuchat

So far this season, there have been three influenza-related deaths among children. Schuchat said seasonal influenza activity is increasing across the United States, and further increases in influenza activity are expected.

“If you have not gotten your flu vaccine yet this season, you should get one now,” Schuchat said.