The flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity. But for those who do get sick, it’s supposed to keep the symptoms from being so severe. At least that’s the current medical thinking. Now Vanderbilt is launching a study to see how true that claim is.
Researchers will track whether patients with the flu who end up in the ICU got a vaccine and when, then check which strain of influenza they contracted.
Lead investigator Wesley Self, an emergency medicine professor at Vanderbilt, says the findings should help public health officials decide how hard to push flu shots.
“If we have a really good understanding that it can prevent very severe illness, like ICU admissions, being on a ventilator, or dying, we think that provides a really good rationale for why so much effort should be put into vaccination programs each fall,” he says.
The Centers for Disease Control funded the research which includes 10 ICUs in academic medical centers around the country with hopes to follow 700 patients during the 2019-20 flu season. Vanderbilt, which is leading the study, started tracking five severely ill flu patients this week.
Each year, influenza sends hundreds of thousands of Americans to the hospital. And tens of thousands die from complications. A CDC study published in 2018 found flu vaccines lowered ICU admissions, but it didn’t drill down to whether the most severe symptoms were avoided.
“We’re after the truth here,” Self says. “So if it does show that our current vaccines are ineffective for preventing death and severe illness, that would be rationale for getting better vaccines.”