A review in the current issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases has caused quite a hubbub and generated much media coverage, including this Seattle Times article. The review states that the evidence that the flu vaccine saves lives in older people is quite flimsy and that the assumed mortality benefit of the flu vaccine in older people is vastly exaggerated. One reason for this claim is that the original randomized studies that showed that the flu vaccine was effective in preventing the flu and effective in preventing deaths caused by flu had very few patients older than 70. Though this age group (and young children) are at highest risk of complications from the flu, they also have immune systems that are least likely to respond strongly to a vaccine, casting doubt on the assumed mortality benefit that the flu vaccine provides.
The overwhelming reaction to this review seems to have been a-OK. So what? Even if the flu shot doesn’t save lives there are many other benefits, especially in older people, that make the vaccine a very good idea. A prevented hospitalization, a prevented emergency room visit, or even a prevented miserable week in bed is well worth the brief jab and arm soreness that most people experience with the flu shot.
With the flu season approaching, the CDC recently made a statement encouraging the use of the flu vaccine. The CDC page about the flu season, and flu prevention and treatment is here. The CDC recommends that “in general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated” but specifically recommends the flu vaccine for the following groups:
People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:
Children aged 6 months until their 5th birthday,
People 50 years of age and older,
People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.
People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above),
Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated), and
We just received our first supply of the vaccine last week. If you have any questions about the vaccine, please let me know.