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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Influenza Vaccine Ineffective For Elderly

Experts estimate that adults over the age of 70 account for approximately 75 percent of all flu deaths. Many elderly people are strongly encouraged to get the flu vaccine to prevent the illness and its complications: pneumonia, hospitalization and death. But influenza immunization has not been effective at reducing risk, nor has it been thoroughly tested in placebo-controlled clinical trials.

In one study, published in The Lancet, researchers in Seattle reviewed medical charts of more than 3500 seniors over three influenza seasons. Participants were between the ages of 65 and 94 years. Researchers found that factors unrelated to the flu, such as history of smoking, frailty, and pre-existing conditions like heart and lung disease, skewed results of previous studies and overestimated the benefits of immunization.

Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that while the number of adults aged 65 years and older who received the flu vaccine increased from 15 to 20 percent before 1980 to 65 percent in 2001, there was no reduction in the number of flu-related deaths. In fact, there were more. The vaccine was not protective.

Instead of influenza immunization, older adults should reduce their risk of catching the flu by washing their hands frequently, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding people with upper respiratory infections. Eating a nutritious diet, optimizing digestion, and engaging in regular physical activity are also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.

References

Jackson ML et al. Influenza vaccination and risk of community-acquired pneumonia in immunocompetent elderly people: a population-based, nested case-control study. The Lancet, 372(9636):398-405, August 2008.

Simonsen L et al. Impact of influenza vaccination on seasonal morbidity in the US elderly population. Archives of Internal Medicine, 165:265-272, February 2005.

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