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Flu vaccine drive cuts deaths and admissions

Vaccinating all over-65s against flu cuts acute respiratory hospital admissions by 21 per cent and prevents 12 per cent of deaths from respiratory disease, major research reveals.

Elderly patients outside the at-risk groups benefited from a greater proportionate reduction in mortality than those with underlying disease, the study found.

The findings 'strengthen the evidence' for the national policy of blanket flu immunisation of the elderly, concluded the study team, which included researchers from the Medical Research Council and Office for National Statistics.

Their findings, presented to the Society for Social Medicine annual conference last week, will come as a relief to the Government as GPs prepare to launch the annual flu vaccination drive.

A Government-commissioned Health Technology Assessment published earlier this month found immunising healthy patients aged 65 to 74 with no specific risk factors was not cost-effective and cut GP workload by just three consultations per practice per year.

The new study compared hospital admissions and deaths due to acute respiratory diseases between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients over 65 from 1989/99 using the General Practice Research Database. When flu was circulating, the policy of immunising all over-65s prevented 4.2 admissions and 3.1 deaths per week for every 100,000 people vaccinated.

RCGP immunisation spok-esman Dr George Kassianos said: 'Vaccinating all over-65s will not be cost-effective if you can guarantee no outbreaks or epidemics of influenza infection. The problem is, we have no way of guaranteeing freedom from influenza in any country.'

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