Flu shot may not be as effective in seniors, but still needed

Sept. 27, 2013 at 10:01 PM
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BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Older adults are hardest hit by seasonal influenza, but the flu shot is less effective in seniors; nonetheless, U.S. officials say seniors should be vaccinated.

Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said for people age 65 and older, an estimated 60 percent of flu-related U.S. hospitalizations occur in this age group each year. Last season flu illness was particularly severe for people 65 and older, with the highest flu-related hospitalization rates in this age group since it began tracking this information during the 2005-06 flu season.

However, there were reports the flu vaccine did not work as well as expected to protect people in this age group against one particular flu virus last season.

"If that news left you asking yourself whether getting a flu vaccine this season is still worthwhile for people 65 and older, the answer is absolutely and unquestionably, "Yes!" CMS officials said in a statement.

"There are plenty of reasons for people 65 and older to get a flu vaccination this year, and vaccination remains the first, best and most important step in protecting against flu illness and its complications."

The benefits of flu vaccination can vary -- this is particularly true in people age 65 and older -- studies showed vaccination can provide a range of benefits, including reducing flu illness, antibiotic use, doctor's visits, lost work and even helping to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, the CMS said.

In fact, a recent study by CDC and Vanderbilt University experts found flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by nearly 77 percent in study participants age 50 and older during the 2011-12 flu season.

Other studies found that flu vaccination reduces the risk of death in older adults. For people with certain underlying heart conditions, several studies indicate that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of a heart attack.

"Overall, there is significant evidence to support the benefits of vaccination in people 65 and older," the CMS said.

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