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How Effective Are Flu Vaccines?

Study Suggests Flu Vaccine Provides Moderate Protection Against Flu
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Message the Same: 'Get Your Flu Shot'

Andrew Pavia, MD, who chairs the Pandemic Influenza Task Force of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says the new analysis confirms what has been known about the current flu vaccine.

"Everyone agrees that we need better vaccines and we are making progress in that direction," he tells WebMD. "We have known for years that the vaccine we have does not provide a first-rate level of protection in the elderly and the very young, but it does provide protection. It would be terrible if the message to the public was that getting vaccinated isn't important."

In fact, he says, the less effective a vaccine is, the more important it is that as many eligible people as possible get vaccinated to protect those who are most vulnerable.

"With a vaccine that is less than perfect, which is most of our vaccines, much of the protection comes from having widespread coverage within a community," he says.

Better Vaccines May Be on the Way

Osterholm and colleagues conclude that new vaccines are needed that work in different ways from current ones.

But infectious disease expert William Schaffner, MD, says research focused on making the current vaccines better is already paying off.

"The last five years has seen more research aimed at developing better flu vaccines than the previous 50," he says.

Two new vaccines have been licensed within the last two years: a high-dose vaccine that is expected to provide better protection for people over 65 and an intradermal vaccine delivered with a needle that is much smaller than traditional needles.

Schaffner says there is also optimism that a universal vaccine covering all strains of the influenza virus may be on the horizon. Because it would deliver a much higher level of protection than current vaccines, it could be given every five or 10 years instead of every year, he says.

Pavia agrees that the universal vaccine, which he calls the Holy Grail of flu vaccine research, may soon be a reality thanks to recent scientific breakthroughs.

"We have a clear path forward that could get us there within the decade," he says.

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