Vaccines to prevent influenza in healthy adults

Updated
Authors: 
Demicheli V, Jefferson T, Ferroni E, Rivetti A, Di Pietrantonj C

Review aim

The aim of this Cochrane Review, first published in 1999, was to summarise research that looks at the effects of immunising healthy adults with influenza vaccines during influenza seasons. We used information from randomised trials comparing vaccines with dummy vaccines or nothing. We focused on the results of studies looking at vaccines based on inactivated influenza viruses, which are developed by killing the influenza virus with a chemical and are given by injection through the skin. We evaluated the effects of vaccines on reducing the number of adults with confirmed influenza and the number of adults who had influenza-like symptoms such as headache, high temperature, cough, and muscle pain (influenza-like illness, or ILI). We also evaluated hospital admission and harms arising from the vaccines. Observational data included in previous versions of the review have been retained for historical reasons but have not been updated due to their lack of influence on the review conclusions.

What was studied in this review?

Over 200 viruses cause ILI, which produces the same symptoms (fever, headache, aches, pains, cough, and runny nose) as influenza. Without laboratory tests, doctors cannot distinguish between ILI and influenza because both last for days and rarely cause serious illness or death. The types of virus contained in influenza vaccines are usually those that are expected to circulate in the following influenza seasons, according to recommendations of the World Health Organization (seasonal vaccine). Pandemic vaccine contains only the virus strain that is responsible of the pandemic (i.e. the type A H1N1 for the 2009 to 2010 pandemic).

Main results

We found 52 clinical trials of over 80,000 adults. We were unable to determine the impact of bias on about 70% of the included studies due to insufficient reporting of details. Around 15% of the included studies were well designed and conducted. We focused on reporting of results from 25 studies that looked at inactivated vaccines. Injected influenza vaccines probably have a small protective effect against influenza and ILI (moderate-certainty evidence), as 71 people would need to be vaccinated to avoid one influenza case, and 29 would need to be vaccinated to avoid one case of ILI. Vaccination may have little or no appreciable effect on hospitalisations (low-certainty evidence) or number of working days lost.

We were uncertain of the protection provided to pregnant women against ILI and influenza by the inactivated influenza vaccine, or this was at least very limited.

The administration of seasonal vaccines during pregnancy showed no significant effect on abortion or neonatal death, but the evidence set was observational.

Key messages

Inactivated vaccines can reduce the proportion of healthy adults (including pregnant women) who have influenza and ILI, but their impact is modest. We are uncertain about the effects of inactivated vaccines on working days lost or serious complications of influenza during influenza season.

How up to date is this review?

The evidence is current to 31 December 2016.

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