Study Finds No Measurable Benefit to Flu Shots

Posted on September 3, 2008  Comments (3)

Do Flu Shots For The Elderly Save Lives? Just Washing Hands Works Better, Says Study

The widely-held perception that the influenza vaccination reduces overall mortality risk in the elderly does not withstand careful scrutiny, according to researchers in Alberta. The vaccine does confer protection against specific strains of influenza, but its overall benefit appears to have been exaggerated by a number of observational studies that found a very large reduction in all-cause mortality among elderly patients who had been vaccinated.

The study included more than 700 matched elderly subjects, half of whom had taken the vaccine and half of whom had not. After controlling for a wealth of variables that were largely not considered or simply not available in previous studies that reported the mortality benefit, the researchers concluded that any such benefit “if present at all, was very small and statistically non-significant and may simply be a healthy-user artifact that they were unable to identify.”

“Over the last two decades in the United Sates, even while vaccination rates among the elderly have increased from 15 to 65 percent, there has been no commensurate decrease in hospital admissions or all-cause mortality

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3 Responses to “Study Finds No Measurable Benefit to Flu Shots”

  1. James
    September 15th, 2008 @ 8:06 am

    I’m a medical doctor in the UK. I find this type of research pretty hard to swallow.

    In terms of confounding factors there are the following.
    1) Patients with serious diseases are living longer: the life expectancy has increased for the major killers i.e.
    a.) Ischaemic Heart DIsease
    b.) Chornic Obstruyctive pulmonary disease
    c.) Cancer

    The older population is an “iller” population than it was 20 years ago.
    The only way you can look at data like this is via trials in which the reduction in mortality was proven.
    The impact of drugs like “statins” on reducing the mortality form a heart attack is a classic example. If a patient survives this heart attack, they’re much more likely die from pneumonia than a “fit and well” patient of the same age.

    The only way a drug can get to market and be licensed is if it actually reduces mortality and morbidity.

    This is one of the most difficult facts I try to convey to my students: the influence of these confounding factors. Check out some free questions on public health and epidemiology on my website for a bit more of an insight on how things may not be what they seem!


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