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For Senior Citizens, How Effective are Flu Shots?Scientists challenge previous studies on the effectiveness of flu shots
September 29, 2008
After six decades of steadily expanded use among the elderly, flu vaccination for seniors has come under critical scrutiny in several studies. Collectively, they suggest that for those over 65, flu vaccination may confer fewer benefits than have been widely advertised.

Researchers like Lone Simonsen of George Washington University say that the new skepticism is overdue. Flu vaccination rates among American seniors have risen more than fourfold over 25 years -- to 65% in 2007. During the same period, however, hospitalization for, and death due to, flu and pneumonia appear to have declined only marginally in the nation's 65-and-over population. It just doesn't add up, she says, the studies have produced a view of vaccination that is "is far too rosy."

The centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that flu kills about 36,000 Americans annually. But while that shocking figure seems straightforward enough, calculating the totals of death by flu is anything but. For most of those counted as flu fatalities, pneumonia -- a frequent complication of flu -- is listed as the cause of death.

For those 65 and older, the lesson is clear: A dose of pneumococcal vaccine is a good way to bolster protection among those at risk of suffering complications of flu. A single dose, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, can protect against 23 types of Streptococcus pneumonia bacteria thought responsible for causing more than 90% of pneumonia cases.

The latest of the critical studies followed the cases of 3,519 patients over age 65 -- all admitted to the hospital with pneumonia either during or just before the flu seasons of 2000-2002.  The study found that the group that had been immunized against flu appeared no less likely to develop pneumonia than those who had not.

On the heels of that study came a second, conducted by Canadian researchers, that looked at the death rates of elderly hospitalized patients with pneumonia. When researchers paired patients of similar age and health status and then looked at their comparative likelihood of dying, they found that age and frailty -- not flu vaccination -- seemed to account for which patients were most likely to die of pneumonia during flu season. At the same time, they noted, seniors who were younger, more active and generally in better health were more likely to be vaccinated.

The study's lead author, Dean T. Eurich of the University of Alberta School of Public Health, concluded that past studies likely attributed to vaccination the benefits that actually come from what he called the "healthy user effect": Seniors who get vaccinated against flu tend to be younger, healthier, more active and better able to take better care of themselves. For those reasons -- not flu immunization -- they are less likely to succumb to pneumonia, Eurich said.

"No one is saying don't vaccinate seniors. It would be imprudent to do that," Simonsen says. Indeed, several studies have pointed to the need for community groups, hospitals and nursing homes to step up their efforts to vaccinate frail and elderly patients at highest risk of dying if they contract the flu.

Web Link: LA Times, http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-fluseniors29-2008sep29,0,1716794.story
Source: By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, September 29, 2008

Dr. Iverson's Comment
 
I often get asked what I feel about the flu shot. This article exemplifies what has been my gut hunch for quite some time. Frankly speaking, I emphasize them for the frail and immune compromised only (those with serious chronic illness). 
 
When in doubt, I look to Nature’s approach.   I am not in favor of administering a vaccine directly into the blood when the flu virus would normally be encountered by your immune system through the nose. Besides this, I feel that Nature has provided all we need to protect ourselves from the flu. 
 
Good wholesome non-processed food, clean water, CLEANSING the digestive tract and liver after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, taking vitamins A, C, E and D daily, Exercising, utilizing saunas and hydrotherapy, and of course taking benefit of herbal immune boosters (like our famous VIREX!) when you feel the slightest bit of a cold coming on.
 
Be Well!
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