Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Do Flu Shots Save Lives?

One Study Shows a Large Impact, but Another Study Shows None
WebMD Health News

Feb. 14, 2005 - It is widely believed that getting a flu shot reduces deaths this time of year among the elderly by half or even more, but new research finds the lifesaving benefits of vaccination to be greatly overestimated.

Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found no correlation between an increase in flu vaccine coverage over the past two decades and a decrease in influenza-related deaths among the elderly. Their conclusions contradict most other reported studies, including one published in the same Feb. 14 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

In that study, researchers from the Netherlands reported that influenza vaccination was associated with a 50% reduction in deaths among people aged 65 and over. Vaccination was also credited with reducing deaths by 78% among younger, high-risk adults, such as those with chronic heart or lung diseases.

Coverage Has Increased

So which study is right? Noted flu vaccine expert William Schaffner, MD, says the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

The NIAID study was the first to examine flu deaths for the entire U.S. population rather than focusing on a selected group, as has been done in previous studies. Researcher Lone Simonsen, PhD, and colleagues used statistical models that tracked deaths due to pneumonia, influenza, and all other causes among the elderly from 1968 until 2001.

The percentage of elderly Americans who got annual flu shots rose steadily from around 15% before 1980 to 65% in 2001. Simonsen tells WebMD that the dramatic increase in coverage should have led to a dramatic drop in flu deaths.

"This is not what we found," she says. "Certainly if this intervention really does reduce winter deaths in the elderly by 50% we would expect to see it. So the mortality benefits are probably very much overestimated."

Simonsen says the 1997-1998 flu season perfectly illustrates the point. That year, the vaccine that was manufactured ended up being totally mismatched with the circulating flu strain, she says. So even though 63% of the eligible elderly got their flu shots, coverage was effectively zero.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat