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The History of the Flu Vaccine

history of the flu vaccine
Posted on March 29, 2023
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The flu vaccine is safe and has been around for decades. In fact, did you know it dates back to the 1940s and has continued to evolve with medicine over the years? As the vaccine continues to improve, all vaccine ingredients are tested for safety before they are manufactured meaning each vaccine is extremely safe. Let’s walk through the history of the flu vaccine. It’s also worth noting in the United States there are three different flu vaccine production technologies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • Egg-Based Flu Vaccine
  • Cell Culture-Based Flu Vaccine
  • Recombinant Flu Vaccine


In the 1940s, Thomas Francis, Jr., MD and Jonas Salk, MD served as lead researchers at the University of Michigan to develop the first inactivated flu vaccine with support from the U.S. Army. Their vaccine used fertilized chicken eggs which is still a method used to produce most flu vaccines today. Additionally, the first mechanical ventilators became available to help patients suffering from respiratory complications. The Army was involved with this research because of their experience with troop loss from flu illness and deaths during WWI.

In 1945, an inactivated influenza vaccine was licensed for use in civilians. In the 1960s, the country was faced with substantial mortality as the flu pandemic occurred. In response, the U.S. Surgeon General began recommending annual influenza vaccination for people with chronic debilitating disease, people aged 65 years or older, and pregnant women.

Fast Forward to 1993: The Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program was established as a result of a measles outbreak to provide vaccines at no cost to children whose parents or guardians might not be able to afford them. This sparked the idea that children would begin to receive recommended vaccinations on a scheduled basis. Vaccines began taking different shapes as they continued to improve and in June of 2003, the first nasal spray flu vaccine was licensed.

Major Milestone

Families Fighting Flu played an instrumental role in establishing CDC’s universal recommendation for flu vaccination to include all individuals six months of age and older.

Some History about Families Fighting Flu: When Gary and Doris lost their 4-year-old daughter Jessica to the flu in 2002, Alissa lost her 4-year-old daughter Amanda and Joe lost his 3 ½ -year-old daughter Emily to the flu in 2004, the flu vaccination was not recommended for their age group. Since then, each of these parents have made it their mission to help save lives so other families didn’t have to go through what their family did. That takes us to 2010 when the ACIP began recommending annual influenza vaccination for those 6 months of age and older. It’s because of people like Gary, Doris, Alissa, and Joe and other families advocating and sharing their stories that this came to fruition.


With the Tripledemic in full swing, doctors say it’s important to take certain precautions. First and foremost, now is the time to get your flu shot and make sure you are up to date on your COVID-19 vaccination. Additionally, paying attention to symptoms and seeking medical attention when necessary is important. As of February 24, 2023, between 173.5 million to 183.5 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States for the 2022-23 season. Check out the CDC’s historical reference of seasonal influenza vaccine doses distributed here.

Now, flu vaccines are accessible to nearly everyone and recommended for those 6 months or older. Check out the different types of flu vaccines below:

  • Quadrivalent Inactivated Influenza Vaccines (IIV4)
  • Trivalent Inactivated Influenza Vaccines (IIV3)
  • Quadrivalent Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV4) – Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine
  • Quadrivalent Recombinant Influenza Vaccine (RIV4)
  • Quadrivalent Cell-Cultured Influenza Vaccine (ccIIV4)

Each flu season, the CDC dives into the data to determine the effectiveness of that season’s influenza vaccine. These vaccines are very safe and effective. Did you know they can reduce the chances of getting sick with the flu by up to 60 percent? According to the CDC, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and extensive research has supported the safety of flu vaccines. Check out more flu vaccine facts here, and make sure you get your annual flu vaccine to keep our communities healthy fighting the flu!

You might also be interested in...

Test and Treat to Protect Grandparents
5 Tips for Flu Prevention at the Workplace
Why Vaccinating Kids Matters for Their Health and the Community
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