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Flu shots do help elderly, study finds

October 04, 2007|Delthia Ricks | Newsday

In an analysis that rebuts the notion that flu shots are of no benefit to people 65 and older, scientists have found that the annual jab reduces the risk of hospitalization and death in the elderly.

Even though a flu shot is one of the simplest healthcare interventions, it has become one of the most controversial with respect to older adults. Last week, a study found no appreciable benefit to the shot, and other studies in the last two years have drawn similar conclusions.

Now a team of scientists, led by a Department of Veterans Affairs physician, has found in a study that covered a decade's worth of data that flu vaccinations decreased hospitalizations for pneumonia by 27% and cut the overall death rate in half.

Dr. Kristin Nichol of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis said the most eye-catching part of the research was the discovery that flu vaccination helps reduce wintertime deaths for any reason, not just mortality related to influenza. Scientists call such deaths "all cause" mortality.

She theorized that the flu might serve as an additional burden in people already encumbered by chronic conditions, which could lead to a higher death rate in the unvaccinated.

The study's findings are reported in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

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