Sleeves Up, Grannies!
Sleeves Up, Grannies! - The Importance of Flu Vaccination in the Elderly
It’s the flu season once again, and more than anyone else in your family, it’s your grandparents who should get a flu jab as they are more susceptible to complications from the flu! In Singapore, flu viruses circulate year-round, with a twice-a-year increase observed in April to July and November to January.
“Influenza is not just a common cold, with associations to pneumonia circulatory and respiratory conditions, which can lead to deaths,” shared Dr Leong Hoe Nam, Infectious Diseases Specialist at Raffles Hospital, during the launch recently of Intanza, Sanofi Pasteur’s first intradermal influenza vaccine. What is alarming is that studies show that most deaths currently associated with the flu virus in industrialised countries occur among those over 65 years of age.
The Flu and the Elderly
Although the flu can affect people of all ages, the elderly and those with chronic diseases are at high risk of complications from the flu. Of all age groups, individuals older than age 84 have the highest risk of dying from seasonal flu complications; those older than age 74 face the second highest risk of flu complications. Children age four and younger have the third highest risk of problems with seasonal flu.1
“Vaccinating the elderly is a challenge because of immunosenescence,” explained Dr Leong. Immunosenescence is the steady weakening of the immune system that occurs with age. A degenerated immune system makes individuals aged 60 and over more vulnerable to infections and complications from flu or influenza.
The problem with immunosenescence is that it also makes the elderly less responsive to vaccination, compared with younger adults. However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), among the elderly, influenza vaccination reduces severe illnesses and complications by up to 60% and deaths by up to 80%.
Influenza is a highly contagious disease that often reaches epidemic proportions. The flu viruses are very infectious and are easily transmitted from person to person through air droplets projected by coughing and sneezing. The flu can generally make you feel ill, but complications are just lurking in the corner. The most common symptoms of complications are: difficulty in breathing, flu not improving and even worsening after a few days, and nausea, vomiting, high fever, chest pain, chills and coughs with thick, yellow-green mucus.
The best and most effective way of preventing the flu and its complications is vaccination. Although there is nasal-spray vaccine, which is administered by nasal spray, the most common vaccine is administered via injection.
The Need for a Flu Jab
In a 10-month study conducted in the elderly, flu vaccination was proven to be associated with a reduction in lung disease-specific mortality, including pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It was also linked with reducing all-cause mortality and other major cause-specific mortality. Flu shots have also shown to reduce mortality due to stroke by 65%, diabetes mellitus by 55% and renal diseases by 60%.2
Since the elderly have a weakened immune system, and manufacturers update the vaccines yearly to make it effective against the current virus, doctors advise that it is necessary for the elderly to get flu shots every year.
Studies have suggested much more dramatic benefits of flu vaccines for the elderly, which include substantially fewer hospitalisations for pneumonia and flu, as well as reductions in overall death rates. According to Ann Falsey, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, flu vaccination is a low-cost, low-risk treatment with efficacy.
Less Painful Flu Jabs!
In Singapore, flu viruses circulate year-round, with a twice-a-year increase observed in April to July and November to January. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent infection. For people who have a fear of needles or elderly people who have frail bones and thin dry skin, Sanofi Pasteur recently launched Intanza®, the first intradermal vaccination against influenza, using a new intradermal microinjection system administered only 1 to 2mm into the skin, with the needle 10-times smaller compared to the regular vaccine needle, providing a less stressful experience.
Wang CS, Wang ST, Lai CT, et al. Impact of influenza vaccination on major cause-specific mortality. Vaccine 2007; 25:1196-203