Flu in older people

As winter approaches the risk of catching flu increases. The most effective way to protect yourself this winter is to get a flu jab. Certain groups are at particular risk and can receive a free flu jab this year. One particular risk group is those over the age of 65 (1). Older people are at greater risk of complications such as pneumonia due to underlying diseases (2).

It is clear that the flu jab is the best option when it comes to flu protection in older people. A large randomised controlled trial (RCT) of influenza vaccine in adults aged over 60 (Govaert et al)(3) was conducted during a single season; and it found the effectiveness was 58% for the prevention of influenza.   A further piece research by Riddenhour et al (4), while not an RCT, examined a large number of records spanning over 15 years and found a clear benefit of the flu jab in older people. Of particular note was that excess deaths occurring within 30 days of a pneumonia/ flu hospitalisation and excess pneumonia/flu hospitalisations were significantly reduced by 25% and 19% respectively. This is a finding supported by other studies such as that by Mangtani et al (2004) who found that flu jabs reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths due to respiratory disease in individuals under 64 (5). 

This evidence shows the flu jab for older people is very worthwhile. While more high quality research is required to determine the exact level of effectiveness, it is clear that the jab is the best way that older people can protect themselves against the potentially serious consequences on flu.

More information on the flu jab is available on the NHS Choices website.  To get your flu jab in time for winter - please visit your local GP or pharmacist.



(1) World Health Organisation (2009) Influenza (Seasonal) Fact sheet N°211 

(2). Health Protection Agency (2013) Frequently asked questions on influenza.  

(3) Govaert TM, Thijs CT, Masurel N, Sprenger MJ, Dinant GJ, et al. (1994) The efficacy of influenza vaccination in elderly individuals. A randomized doubleblind placebo-controlled trial. JAMA 272: 1661–1665

(4) Ridenhour, Campitelli3, Kwong, Rosella, Armstrong, Mangtani, Calzavara & Shay (2013)  Effectiveness of Inactivated Influenza Vaccines in Preventing Influenza-Associated Deaths and Hospitalizations among Ontario Residents Aged > 65 Years: Estimates with Generalized Linear Models Accounting for Healthy Vaccine Effects. Plos One: October 2013, Volume 8 Issue 10

(5) Mangtani P, Cumberland P, Hodgson CR, Roberts JA, Cutts FT, Hall AJ.  A cohort study of the effectiveness of influenza vaccine in older people, performed using the United Kingdom general practice research database. J Infect Dis. 2004 Jul 1;190(1):1-10.


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