Flu shots help seniors avoid complications

By Tom Nordlie • Published: January 10th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Every year as flu season approaches, the debate begins… do flu shots really work?

It’s an important issue.

Influenza causes almost two-hundred-thousand hospitalizations and forty-five-hundred deaths annually, many of them striking the elderly.

But maybe one part of the controversy can be settled now.

According to the largest-ever study on the subject, flu vaccines do help community-dwelling seniors survive influenza.

As reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers collected data during ten flu seasons, representing more than seven-hundred-thousand U-S residents ages sixty-five and up.

A little more than half of them were vaccinated.

Researchers determined that subjects who were vaccinated were twenty-seven percent less likely to be hospitalized for influenza or pneumonia.

And they were forty-eight percent less likely to die.

Those figures are more impressive considering the people vaccinated were more likely to have pre-existing conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease.

There’s at least one limitation to the study. It didn’t include the frailest elderly, who live in nursing homes or other supervised settings.

People in this group may be especially likely to have weakened immune systems. So flu shots may be less effective for them.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates among the elderly have stagnated, and fall short of the goal of ninety percent by the year 2010.

So the researchers say patients, doctors and policymakers should try harder to promote flu shots.

Considering they can cut the risk of influenza death in half, vaccinations make good sense.

It’s hardly worth debating anymore.