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Insights on Influenza

Advances in Flu Vaccine Technology Over the Years

Posted on May 22, 2024
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When it comes to public health, revolutionary measures have advanced to combat the spread of illness with preventative vaccines.

Influenza, otherwise known as the flu, was originally thought to be caused by a bacterial infection, according to the World Health Organization. Because of this, early attempts at creating a vaccine during the 1918 influenza pandemic were unsuccessful and resulted in a death toll ranging from 20 to 50 million people. The mortality rates were so high by not realizing the true cause of infection that worldwide life expectancy decreased by several years and is estimated to have surpassed those of the entire First World War combined. 

Thankfully, advancements in technology and research that started with identifying influenza as a virus in the 1930s have led to groundbreaking discoveries. Today, the flu vaccine is a key strategy in our defense against seasonal flu outbreaks, but while flu severity varies from year to year, 300,000 to 700,000 people still lose their lives annually. 

At Families Fighting Flu, we want to make sure that you have the information you need to keep you and your loved ones safe. Below, we discuss the safety of the flu shot, the process behind its creation, and who should prioritize receiving a flu shot each year.

How is the Flu Vaccine Made?

Creating the flu vaccine is a meticulous and collaborative endeavor involving scientists, researchers, and public health experts. Each year, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global health institutions monitor flu activity worldwide to identify the strains most likely to circulate during the upcoming flu season.

Based on this surveillance data, experts formulate the flu vaccine to protect against the predominant flu strains expected to circulate. This process involves selecting specific influenza viruses, growing them in chicken eggs or cell cultures, and then inactivating them to create the vaccine.

Advancements in vaccine production technology have introduced alternative methods, such as cell-based and recombinant vaccine production, which offer certain advantages over traditional egg-based methods. These modern approaches make vaccine production more efficient while reducing the risk of egg-related allergic reactions.

Recently, advancements in Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology have increased the possibility that scientists may soon be able to develop and manufacture the flu vaccine faster.  Clinical trials for a universal flu vaccine that would be effective against all strains of influenza are also in the works.

Is the Flu Shot Safe?

One of the most common concerns people have about the influenza vaccine is its safety. Rest assured, the flu vaccine is rigorously tested and monitored to ensure its safety and efficacy. Contrary to common misconceptions, the flu shot does not contain a live virus. Instead, it typically contains either an inactivated virus or viral proteins that stimulate the immune system to produce protective antibodies. This means that it cannot cause the flu itself. 

Millions of doses of flu vaccine are administered annually worldwide, and adverse reactions are exceedingly rare. Most side effects, such as soreness at the injection site or mild fever, are minor and temporary. The benefits of receiving the flu shot far outweigh the risks, especially for those at higher risk of complications from the flu.

Who Should Receive the Flu Vaccine?

Every year, otherwise healthy individuals of all ages suffer serious complications from flu that result in everything from hospitalization and death. Regardless of age or health status, the flu is a serious and potentially deadly disease for anyone. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone six months of age and older, with rare exceptions. 

Vaccination is particularly important for individuals at higher risk of flu-related complications, including:

  • Individuals with Chronic Health Conditions: Those with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or weakened immune systems, are at higher risk of flu-related complications and should prioritize vaccination.
  • Young Children: Due to their developing immune systems, children under the age of 5, especially those younger than 2, are at increased risk of flu-related complications.
  • Older Adults: Adults 65 and older are more susceptible to severe flu illness and its complications.
  • Pregnant Women: Vaccination during pregnancy protects the mother and also transfers immunity to the newborn during the first few months of life.
  • Healthcare Workers and Caregivers: Healthcare personnel and those caring for high-risk individuals play a major role in preventing the spread of flu within healthcare settings and communities. Vaccination among these groups helps protect both themselves and those under their care.

In addition to these priority groups, flu vaccination is recommended for anyone seeking to reduce their risk of flu illness and its associated consequences, including missed work or school, hospitalization, and even death. Interested in learning more? You can read more about who needs a flu vaccine here.

At Families Fighting Flu we’re here to help you keep you and your loved ones safe by sharing the importance of annual flu vaccination. Addressing misconceptions with accurate information empowers you to make informed decisions about your health and take proactive measures to battle the flu. 

Remember, getting a flu shot protects you and those around you, particularly those who may be more vulnerable to severe flu illness. So, don’t wait—find a flu shot near you and do your part in keeping yourself and your community healthy this flu season.

Learn More About Families Fighting Flu

Families Fighting Flu (FFF), a national, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to honoring loved ones who have suffered serious medical complications or died from influenza, commemorates 20 years of advocacy protecting children, families, and all communities from the flu. Our 20th anniversary is a testament to our dedication and enduring efforts to protect families. It is also a sobering reminder that we are not done yet.

In sharing personal stories, FFF strives to increase awareness about the seriousness of the flu, reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths each year, drive up vaccination rates for everyone six months and older, and encourage symptomatic individuals to get tested and receive appropriate treatment. Learn more about our mission and resources here so that you can empower your family to stay healthy this flu season.

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