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Flu vaccination reduces deaths in over-65s by more than a quarter

The national flu vaccination campaign could slash death rates among the over-65s by over a quarter, according to new research by an expert adviser to the European drug regulatory body.

GPs welcomed the findings but called for Government action to help them hit the national target of immunising 70 per cent of over-65s ­ missed by 1 per cent last winter.

Study leader Dr Bettie

Voordouw, the Netherlands' expert adviser to the European Medicines Evaluation Agency, compared mortality and infection rates in 8,911 patients over 65 who had received the flu vaccine with the same number of non-immunised controls.

The study from GP records showed influenza vaccination was associated with a 28 per cent reduction in all-cause mortality.

Patients who were vaccinated were 52 per cent less likely to have an influenza infection compared with non-vaccinated patients.

The results, which appear-ed in the Archives of Internal Medicine (May), showed death rates from all causes were

reduced by 33 per cent in

vaccinated patients with co-morbidity, such as diabetes.

Dr Voordouw, an epidemiologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said matching the strain of influenza in the vaccine with the

circulating strain was essential for reducing mortality in elderly patients.

She said: 'Our data support an annual vaccination strategy for all community-dwelling

elderly.'

GP consultation levels, drug prescriptions and hospital admissions were all reduced by vaccination, contributing to its cost-effectiveness, she added.

Dr George Kassianos, RCGP immunisation spokes-man and a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire, called for a stronger campaign from the Department of Health to highlight the importance of flu vaccination because the elderly did not think it was a 'big

issue'.

He said: 'There is a very good reason why uptake has been poor in some areas. We have not had any local outbreaks or an epidemic so people think everything is all right.

'In the absence of this we need a stronger campaign from the department to immunise those over 65 and in at-risk groups.'

The department blamed GPs' failure to meet last

year's uptake target on NHS reorganisation.

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