Flu shots work, study finds

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Vince Mor, PhD (Photo by Rob Pike)
Vince Mor, PhD (Photo by Rob Pike)

As National Immunization Awareness Month comes to a close, a newly published study by Brown University researchers offers confirmation that older adults benefit from influenza vaccination—if the vaccines are well-matched to the flu strain prevalent in the year in which they are administered.

In fact, vaccination against the flu significantly reduce deaths and hospitalizations, saving thousands of lives, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Although the study involved nursing home residents, Vincent Mor, PhD, corresponding author of the study and the Florence Pirce Grant Professor in the Brown University School of Public Health, said the results likely apply to all older adults, most of whom do not live in nursing homes. Vaccination rates among older adults living in the community, however, tend to be much lower than among older adults living in nursing homes.

Co-author Stefan Gravenstein, MD, an adjunct professor at Brown, agreed. “This study evidences protection for an elderly population for whom vaccine efficacy has been questioned,” he said. “Annual vaccination is the only way to maximize the benefit of vaccine, no matter what the age.”

The Agency for Health Care Research and Quality funded the study.

Medicare typically provides flu and pneumonia vaccines at no cost to beneficiaries. A shingles vaccine also is recommended for older adults, although a 2011 analysis by the Government Accountability Office found that more than 60 percent of physicians and pharmacists weren't stocking it. That same analysis found that about 22 million people enrolled in Medicare's prescription drug benefit didn't get their routinely recommended vaccinations.

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