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Flu Vaccine Has No Benefits for the Elderly?

Posted: Thursday, January 10, 2008

A study published online in the journal Vaccine found the influenza vaccine had no impact on emergency admissions in the elderly. 

The new study analyzed uptake data and hospital admission rates for 3,970 people aged between 65 and 89 registered with 79 general practices in England.

Even after adjustment for age, sex, chronic conditions, deprivation and smoking status, flu vaccination still had no effect on admissions for acute respiratory illness. Vaccinated patients had a non-significant 20% increase in risk of admission.

The research fuels growing doubts over the effectiveness of flu vaccination, following a recent review in The Lancet Infectious Diseases that claimed the supporting evidence had been 'greatly exaggerated'.

Dr. Tom Jefferson, leading expert on flu and coordinator of the Cochrane Vaccines Field, urged the Department of Health to look again at the flu vaccination campaign. 'This adds to the uncertainty, but I'm not sure people are taking any notice. What I want to see is the Government taking stock of this because this is a major health campaign every year that uses public money.'

The researchers said their results were consistent with earlier reviews, which found the 'observed effects in the community-dwelling elderly are likely to be overestimated'.

They also warned: 'Solely relying on the influenza vaccine to control the annual winter bed pressure in hospitals is unlikely to be a sufficiently effective yearly strategy.'

Dr. Peymane Adab, an author on the study and senior lecturer in public health at the University of Birmingham, stated that,  'Flu vaccination is not the major driver of admissions, so putting all of our efforts into vaccination won't have a major impact on admissions.

'We should look at other factors instead -- like reducing COPD exacerbations, treating chest infections and promoting smoking cessation. These are possibly going to be things that are more effective.'

Jo Haynes, Editor of Pulse, said: 'Each year, GPs face weeks of frantically busy flu clinics in order to make sure everyone eligible is vaccinated. It's a stressful and extremely expensive business, and doctors and patients need to know that the whole process is worthwhile. It's time ministers took notice of the growing doubts over flu vaccination, and commissioned a large-scale trial to sort out once and for all whether vaccination works.' 

Source: Diabetes In Control: Pulse, a magazine for GPs in the UK

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