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Benefits of flu jab for pneumonia 'overestimated'

By Lilian Anekwe

The value of the annual flu vaccination campaign has again been called into question, by research suggesting the flu jab does not offer as much protection against pneumonia as previously claimed.

US scientists argue that the risk of developing pneumonia – a common complication of flu in the elderly – is unchanged whether people over 65 are given the flu jab or not.

Previous studies has indicated that over 65s vaccinated against flu have up to a 30% lower risk of admission to hospital for pneumonia, compared to those not given the vaccine.

Dr Michael Jackson, a fellow at the Group Health Centre Studies in Seattle, followed more than 3,500 people over the course of three flu seasons, and found after adjusting for the presence and severity of other diseases, the flu vaccine was not associated with a reduced risk of community-acquired pneumonia (odds ratio 0.92, 95% CI 0.77–1.10).

Dr Jackson concluded in today's issue of The Lancet: ‘These results could mean that influenza infection only causes a small proportion of the pneumonias in these people, so that reduction of the risk of influenza infection does not lead to an important reduction in all-cause pneumonia.

‘Alternatively, these results could mean that the vaccine is not very effective in reducing the risk of influenza infection in elderly people at risk of pneumonia.

‘These two possibilities have quite different implications for vaccine development and vaccination recommendations; differentiation between them will need studies with laboratory-confirmed endpoints, such as pneumonia or serious respiratory outcomes after a confirmed influenza infection.'

A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency GPs should consider to vaccinate the over 65s and patients in at-risk groups.

‘This paper does not negate the need for influenza vaccine. Other studies that were specifically designed to address this question have shown benefits from vaccination in reducing both infection and subsequent morbidity and mortality in the elderly. ‘

The benefits of the flu jab against pneumonia have been overestimated, researchers claim The benefits of the flu jab against pneumonia have been overestimated, researchers claim

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