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Help for ill GPs

Cochrane researchers say claims of 70 per cent effectiveness in over-65s are a ‘total fantasy'

By Emily Wright

Vaccinating over-65s against flu is far less effective than previously estimated and must be backed with more rigorous public health measures, a gold standard review concludes.

Researchers on the Cochrane Vaccines study said Government claims that the flu vaccine was 70 per cent effective were ‘a total fantasy'.

The review of 64 international studies in patients aged 60-65 and over found community vaccination had no effect on rates of influenza, influenza-like illness or pneumonia.

The research, published online by The Lancet, found the vaccine reduced hospital admissions for influenza and pneumonia by 26 per cent.

Overall, the researchers estimated that the vaccine had an average success rate of between 28 and 30 per cent.

Study leader Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the Cochrane Vaccines Field in Rome, Italy, said: ‘These new findings are a cause for concern both for the taxpayers who fund the vaccines and the elderly who take them.'

Dr Jefferson, formerly a GP in Aldershot, added: ‘Usually when you look at decision-making documents they start at about a 70 per cent efficacy. The obvious implication is that this is wishful thinking. They are nice fantasies but total fantasies.'

He urged GPs to provide patients with detailed public health advice, such as improved hygiene measures and good diet (see box, below).

Dr Douglas Fleming, director of the RCGP Birmingham research unit and the RCGP's spokesperson on flu vaccination, said GPs should not be alarmed by the results.

‘The vaccine is not going to be as good if the immune system is already worn down as it is in the elderly,' he said. But Dr Jefferson insisted the study included fit, healthy individuals and not just the old and frail.

‘The vaccine was ineffective in the younger elderly as well as those in their 80s,' he said. He criticised officials for failing to take responsibility for the fact figures on the vaccine had been distorted and patients misled.

ewright@cmpinformation.com

Advice GPs can give patients

• Keep fit and take regular exercise

• Keep warm

• General hygiene – wash hands rigorously and hair and clothes regularly

• Wipe down surfaces, particularly in the kitchen

• Eat well – lots of fresh fruit and vegetables

• If you can afford it, get away to a warmer climate during the winter months

Source: Dr Tom Jefferson,

co-ordinator, Cochrane

Vaccines Field

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