By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Approximately 13 million illnesses (and over 110,000 hospitalizations) may have been averted by the flu vaccine over the last six years in the US, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The largest number of averted cases occurred during the most recent period studied, 2010-2011, likely due to increased awareness of influenza after the 2009 pandemic. Another factor: in 2010, a higher proportion of vaccinations occurred earlier in the flu season.

The researchers used surveillance data from the CDC and looked at vaccination coverage, vaccine efficacy, and disease occurrence.

This is the first study to assess illness and hospitalizations prevented by the vaccine. Senior author on the study Joseph Bresee states, “these results confirm the value of influenza vaccination, but highlight the need for more people to get vaccinated and the imperative for vaccines with greater efficacy, especially in the elderly.”

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