Study Backs Flu Vaccinations for Elderly
A new study of the records of millions of nursing home residents affirms the value of influenza vaccination among the elderly. The Brown University analysis found that between 2000 and 2009, the better matched the vaccine was for the influenza strain going around, the fewer nursing home residents died or were hospitalized. Although flu vaccination is a standard of care and a measure of quality in nursing homes, some public health experts question the evidence of whether they do any good, said Vincent Mor, corresponding author of the study and the Florence Pirce Grant Professor in the Brown University School of Public Health. Clinical trials that would withhold vaccination for a control group are not ethical, and observational studies that track differences among those who are vaccinated and those who are not have been suspected of bias (i.e., people left unvaccinated may be too frail compared to the vaccinated general population).
In the new research, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Brown public health and infectious disease experts took a different approach to assess whether vaccination helps. Year-to-year, the ability of the vaccine to fight the flu can vary widely. Sometimes vaccine makers produce a great match that is highly protective. In other years, the prevailing flu strain does not match the vaccine well. The researchers took advantage of this natural variation over the decade 2000-2009 to see whether nursing home residents were better off when the match was good compared to when the match was bad. If vaccines don’t help the elderly, as some critics suggest, then nursing home residents shouldn’t fare any better when the vaccine is a good match than when it’s a bad match.
David Wingate is an elder law attorney who practices in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland. The elder law practice consists of wills, trusts, powers of attorneys, asset protection, and Medicaid planning.