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Flu vaccination for the elderly: a favourable harm-benefit balance

Given the few adverse effects caused by the flu vaccine, the scales tip towards vaccination of the elderly.

Flu is a frequent infection that is generally benign. Complications from flu are more common in people aged over 65. Vaccination is the best prevention, and vaccinating the elderly against flu has proved effective.

The studies available show a lower mortality rate during the seasonal flu epidemics among elderly people living in institutions who have been vaccinated. As regards other elderly people in good health, the various studies show that when the vaccine strains used correspond to the strains going around, there are fewer cases of flu and perhaps fewer complications and deaths among those who have been vaccinated.

In practice, it is preferable to vaccinate elderly people at risk of flu-related complications, especially those living in an institution, as well as those around them, particularly healthcare professionals.

In other elderly people, the benefits of vaccination are limited, but the harm-benefit balance tends to be favourable, chiefly because vaccination causes few adverse effects.

©Prescrire 1 July 2011

"Seasonal influenza vaccination of the elderly" Prescrire Int 2011; 20 (118): 186-188. (pdf, subscribers only)

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