Flu vaccination? Does it work?

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 6.01.54 pmAt this time of year, towards the end of winter, there always seem to be more people around who are sick. There are a lot of people struggling on with the “flu” and a few people who actually have the flu, who depending on politeness, often tell those people with the “flu” that they have no idea what flu actually is if they are anywhere other than in bed.

Apparently this year, the flu has come later than normal, and many people have the famous H1N1 swine flu from the 2009 epidemic.

In any office I’ve ever worked in (perhaps driven by the preponderance of actuaries) there is always a lively debate as to whether the flu vaccine actually works. My employer, like many big white-collar employers, provides a free flu vaccination every year. I got into the habit of seeking it out after my doctor suggested it was wise  the year I had pneumonia before the flu season hit.

So this year I subscribed to the flutracking project:

FluTracking is an online health surveillance system to detect epidemics of influenza. We are looking for people who live in Australia and have easy access to email on a weekly basis. It doesn’t matter if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated.

It takes only 10 – 15 seconds each week. We ask if you have had fever or cough in the last week. This will help us find ways to detect both seasonal influenza and hopefully pandemic influenza and other diseases so we can better protect the community from epidemics.

As you can see from the screenshot from their weekly report, they track the flu status of those who have and haven’t been vaccinated. They have around 16,000 weekly participants, of whom 58% have received the flu vaccine this year. The graph above suggests that it does make a difference, and further, that the more people are sick the more difference it makes.

Of course there are always caveats with a survey like this. The people in the survey are self selective. I suspect that they are not representative of the population (given 58% of them have been vaccinated). But with those quite large caveats, plus my own personal experience (I haven’t got the flu yet this year, despite the rest of my family succumbing). I tend to believe that it works.

And the data is fascinating anyway.




  1 comment for “Flu vaccination? Does it work?

  1. James
    August 26, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Wow – about a 0.5 to 1% improvement for the vaccinated bunch.

    I started on 2000iu of Vit D a year or more ago. Haven’t had a serious cough or cold since, and last summer my hayfever was the best it’s been for years.

    Never had a flu injection. Probably never will.

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