Focus on Vaccinating Elderly May Not Be Enough for Flu Protection

Strategies prioritizing vaccination for elderly persons seem not to reduce hospitalizations, mortality

man getting vaccine

MONDAY, March 2, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Current vaccination strategies focusing on the elderly may be less effective than thought for reducing hospitalization or mortality among this population, according to a study published online March 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Michael L. Anderson, Ph.D., from the University of California in Berkeley, and colleagues examined the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine in reducing hospitalization and mortality among elderly persons. A regression discontinuity design was applied to the sharp change in vaccination rate at 65 years of age, which was the result of an age-based U.K. vaccination policy. Comparisons were limited to individuals near the age-65 threshold.

Overall, 170 million episodes of care and 7.6 million deaths were included. The researchers observed a statistically and clinically significant increase in the rate of seasonal influenza vaccination in association with turning 65. There was no evidence that vaccination reduced hospitalizations or mortality among elderly individuals. The estimates were sufficiently precise to rule out results from prior studies.

"Our results do not preclude modest effectiveness of the influenza vaccine against severe outcomes in elderly persons," the authors write. "Our findings raise questions, however, about the overall effectiveness of a vaccination strategy that is limited to standard vaccines and focuses too much on elderly persons. Supplementary strategies, such as vaccinating children and others who are most likely to spread influenza, may also be necessary to address the high burden of influenza-related complications among older adults."

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