Flu vaccine ‘reduces risk of dying’ for older intensive care patients

Older patients in intensive care units who have been vaccinated against flu have a reduced risk of dying and of suffering a blood clot or bleeding in the brain, according to Danish researchers.

“We can see that the elderly people who have been vaccinated do better in the event of critical illness”

Christian Fynbo Christiansen

This is despite the fact that they are typically older, have more chronic diseases and take more medicine then those who have not been vaccinated, noted the study authors.

The study, by Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital, involved almost 90,000 surviving intensive care patients above the age of 65 during an 11 year period.

Specifically, it was a register-based cohort study that covered 89,818 patients that had survived hospitalisation in intensive care departments in Denmark during the period 2005-2015.

Only a few of them were admitted directly due to influenza, the researchers noted in the journal Intensive Care Medicine.

But, regardless of the cause of the admission, those who were vaccinated had an 16% lower risk of experiencing a stroke and an 8% lower risk of dying during the first year following their admission.

In contrast, no substantial association was observed for flu vaccination and the risk of hospitalisation for myocardial infarction, heart failure, or pneumonia.

Study author Christian Fynbo Christiansen, clinical associate professor at Aarhus University Hospital and consultant at Aarhus University Hospital, said: “Our study shows that there are fewer deaths and serious complications among the patients who have been vaccinated against influenza.

“We can’t say with 100% certainty that the risk of a stroke and dying is lower solely because of the vaccine,” he said. “But we can see that the elderly people who have been vaccinated do better in the event of critical illness.

“This suggests that it would be good if more elderly people received the vaccine. Not least because the vaccine is both safe and inexpensive,” he added.

This study marks the first time that researchers have looked into the effect of the vaccine specifically on elderly critically ill patients.

Influenza vaccination has been routinely offered on the NHS to adults aged 65 and over since the year 2000.

However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government on vaccination issues, recommended the introduction of an adjuvanted trivalent vaccine (aTIV) for over 65s in the 2018-19.

The change followed evidence from 2015-16 that the inactivated flu vaccine worked less well in the over 65 age group than it did in other groups, and in 2016-17 when data suggested it did not work at all in the over 65 age group.

Annual uptake of the free NHS vaccine among people aged 65 or over is relatively high and consistent, at around 70 to 75%. However, according to the study authors, less than 40% of elderly Europeans have the vaccination.