Last year's flu season hit the U.S. early and hard. Just how hard has now become clear, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting there were 381,000 flu-associated hospitalizations. Without a vaccine, things would have been much worse, though.
CDC estimates flu vaccines prevented more than 6 million cases of flu and 79,000 hospitalizations last year. The figures were reached by modelling how many cases would have occurred without vaccines and comparing these projections with the actual data. As expected, young children and elderly people benefited most from vaccinations, with two-thirds of the prevented hospitalizations occurring in these age groups. The data supports CDC's push to increase use of seasonal influenza vaccines.
"This is by far the largest number of hospitalizations and other illnesses that we have seen prevented," CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden told reporters. More widespread use of vaccines would have prevented even more cases. CDC estimates that if 70% of the U.S. population had been vaccinated, 4.4 million cases of flu and 30,000 associated hospitalizations would have been avoided. The release of the data coincided with National Influenza Week, and the CDC used it to reiterate it is not too late to be vaccinated this year.
There is considerable room for improvement. Just 41% of pregnant women have received the flu vaccine this year, leaving many mothers and babies vulnerable to severe flu complications. Three children have died of flu this year. In the last flu season, 169 kids died of influenza. Unvaccinated children accounted for many of these deaths.