By Maureen Salamon
MONDAY, Jan. 8, 2018 (HealthDay News) – The current flu season is becoming an unpleasant story, but there's good news for older Americans who have They received their flu vaccine.
Recent research shows that for older adults, getting the vaccine each year greatly reduces the chances of contracting flu so severe that it takes them to the hospital.
Researchers discovered that repeated influenza vaccines have a double benefit in older adults, demonstrating 74 percent effectiveness in the prevention of intensive care admissions (ICU) and 70 percent effectiveness in preventing deaths.
The findings reinforce the notion that although the flu vaccine does not always prevent the flu, it can make it easier for those who catch it, said the study's author, Dr. Jesus Castilla. He is a researcher at the Navarra Institute for Health Research in Pamplona, Spain.
"We were surprised by the great magnitude of the effect of the vaccine on the prevention of severe influenza," Castilla said. "Our results show the importance of annual vaccination to prevent severe influenza in the elderly population."
"The prevention of severe influenza was observed mainly in patients repeatedly vaccinated in the current and previous season [flu] which reinforces the recommendation of the annual vaccination against influenza in the elderly," he added.
Millions of Americans contract the flu every year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu-related deaths ranged from 12,000 to 56,000 annually between 2010 and 2017, according to CDC estimates.
Older adults, whose immune systems are not as robust, are more likely to suffer severe results from the flu, including hospitalization, complications and death, Castilla noted.
"Annual vaccination acts as a boost to your immune response," he said. "In other words, protection increases compared to the effect of vaccination in a single season."
The new investigation of Castilla and his colleagues involved hundreds of hospitalized patients, older than 65 years, who had influenza, both serious and less serious cases, as well as those who did not.
People who had been vaccinated against the flu in the present and three previous flu seasons were half as likely to develop a severe case of flu, the study found.  Continues
"I think it's comforting that what we recommend to people, which is to get vaccinated every year, actually provides some additional protection," said Dr. Marci Drees, who did not participate in the new study. She is an infection prevention officer and hospital epidemiologist with the Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Del.
"The most important message to take home is getting a flu shot and not worrying about how effective this year is" added Drees. referring to concerns that the current US vaccine UU it could be only marginally effective.
"People may be more inclined to omit it, but this study really emphasizes that a primary benefit is getting year after year that the flu vaccine helps keep people out of the hospital and the ICU," he said.
Developing the flu vaccine each year is a complicated issue, Drees explained. Health officials in the Northern Hemisphere verify which strains of the virus circulated most widely in the southern hemisphere in previous months and then adapted the vaccine to those expectations.
"They have to make a bit of conjecture … and do nothing". "I always guess correctly," he said.
Recent studies show that vaccination against influenza reduces the risk of flu illness by 40 to 60 percent among the general population.
Drees said he would like the research to focus on younger populations, including children, to determine if similar protection will be conferred after repeated vaccinations.
"You are boosting your immune system every time you are vaccinated," he said. "We know that immunity decreases more rapidly in older people, so getting that boost year after year is likely to contribute to the protection we've seen against the serious disease."
The study appears online on January 8 in the journal CMAJ .