New Study: How the Influenza Vaccine Affects Health of Nursing Home Residents
Friday, September 18, 2015
In a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers examined the health records of more than one million Medicare recipients who lived in long-term care facilities between 2000 and 2009. Their goal was to determine what effect the flu vaccine has on the rates of hospitalizations and deaths among this group of older adults.
For older adults, particularly those who live in nursing homes, influenza is a major cause of serious illness and death. Because older adults have weaker immune systems and often have multiple chronic illnesses, they are especially vulnerable to the complications that can come from catching the flu. Living in an institutional community like a nursing home also raises the risk for contracting the flu virus.
The flu vaccine is an important tool to prevent flu infection, but some experts have questioned its effectiveness for older adults, largely because no well-controlled studies in the U.S. have been conducted as to how well the vaccine works in people aged 65 and older (no studies, in fact, have been done with groups of older people as frail as nursing home residents).
Among the residents in the study, nearly 30% had diabetes, 17% had experienced a stroke, 14% had dementia, and more than 10% had either congestive heart failure or emphysema/COPD. The average age of the residents was about 77-years-old.
The researchers noted that, in some years, the available vaccine was a better “match” for strains of influenza that circulated during that year’s flu season (scientists who make the yearly flu vaccine often have to anticipate which strains of the virus are likely to circulate from one year to the next; the vaccine is considered a “match” when the strains selected for the vaccine are also the strains that are the most likely to get people sick). Administering the vaccine to this frail population in years when there is a good match can save approximately 2,560 lives and can prevent more than 3,200 hospitalizations, said the researchers.
The researchers say that their findings confirm that getting a flu shot is an important prevention strategy for older adults living in nursing homes, and that flu shots can significantly reduce hospitalizations and deaths in this vulnerable population. What’s more, the researchers note that, if the flu vaccine helps prevent flu complications even in this frail group of nursing home residents, we may be underestimating its benefits for healthier older people living in the community.
This summary is from “Estimating the Impact of Influenza Vaccination on Nursing Home Residents’ Morbidity and Mortality.” The study authors are Aurora Pop-Vicas, MD; Momotazur Rahman, PhD; Pedro L. Gozalo, PhD; Stefan Gravenstein, MD, MPH; and Vincent Mor, PhD.