Flu vaccination has extended benefits for older patients

November 8, 2019

The flu vaccine can help protect against more than just the flu. A new study reveals extended benefits, especially for the elderly.

Elderly patients who receive the flu vaccine may be protected against more than seasonal viruses. A new report reveals that influenza vaccination was also associated with lowering the risk of heart attack, stroke, and more in this population.

According to a report published in Intensive Care Medicine, researchers in Denmark collected a decade’s worth of data between 2005 and 2015 on the health of patients aged 65 and up a year after their discharge from an intensive care unit, focusing on the patients’ risk of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, pneumonia, or death.

Christian F. Christiansen, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and a member of the department of clinical epidemiology at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, said the study was the first to examine the specific effect of the flu vaccine on elderly critically ill patients.

“Previous studies have shown that the influenza vaccine lessens the risk of bacterial infections and cardiovascular diseases,” Christiansen said. “Our study adds to the previous literature by showing that there are fewer deaths and strokes among intensive care unit survivors aged 65 and older who have been vaccinated against influenza. Surprisingly, the vaccine didn’t reduce the number of pneumonia cases in our study.”

The research team found that out of nearly 90,000 patients involved in the study, one-year mortality rates were lower-19.3 percent compared to 18.8 percent-in patients who had been vaccinated against the flu. Influenza vaccination was also associated with decreased risk of stroke, although no association was noted between influenza vaccination and risks for heart failure, pneumonia, or re-admission, according to the report. There was a minimal, although not substantial, risk reduction for heart attack, the study notes.

The study didn’t examine the mechanisms of how the vaccine resulted in these improved outcomes, or the potential effect of the vaccine on the immune system, but Christiansen said it did show that vaccinated patients fare better in the event of critical illness. He said he hopes the study demonstrates the extended benefits of the vaccine.

“Every year, 30,000 people are admitted to the intensive care units in hospitals in Denmark and we know that the first year is critical. Approximately three out of four survive the hospitalization and are discharged from hospital,” Christiansen said. “But even among the patients who are discharged, almost one in five die within the first year while many others suffer complications.”

Less than 40 percent of elderly Europeans are vaccinated against the flu, and Christiansen said this data may help give clinicians additional leverage in promoting vaccination.

“Our study shows that there are fewer deaths and serious complications among the patients who have been vaccinated against influenza,” he said. “We hope that our research will encourage more clinicians and patients to follow the World Health Organization’s recommendation of influenza vaccinations for elderly people.”