Research has shown that older people and those with chronic diseases are at higher risk of complications if they catch the flu which is why these groups (along with pregnant women) are a priority for flu vaccination.
Pressure on hospitals
Keeping people out of hospital is good for everyone. In many European countries, the winter months can bring serious pressure on emergency departments (sometimes known as ‘casualty’ or ‘A&E’).
Flu and pneumonia outbreaks along with winter vomiting bugs and other factors combine to cause delays in emergency rooms. As the population ages and more people enter the high-risk age groups, adult immunisation is becoming increasingly important.
In the UK, for example, there are more than one million more over-65s going to A&E this year than there were four years ago. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that 75% of adults hospitalised in Britain with community-acquired pneumonia were admitted via the emergency department.
In this interview with Vaccines Today, Dr Janet McElhaney explains that hospitalisation due to flu can set off a chain of events resulting in ‘catastrophic disability’, leading to a loss of independence and a decline in health.
Preventing pneumonia through vaccination also protects older people from a series of knock-on effects. New research from Canada shows that the chances of having a heart attack or stroke are significantly higher in people who have been hospitalised for pneumonia – even if they have no history of heart health problems.
“The main conclusion from our study is that someone hospitalised for pneumonia should be considered at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” said lead author Dr Vicente Corrales-Medina, an infectious diseases physician and researcher at The Ottawa Hospital, and assistant professor with the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine.
“This provides yet another reason to do everything we can to prevent pneumonia from occurring in the community, through vaccination and basic hand hygiene, for example,” he said.
Not only can immunisation help reduce the numbers of adults hospitalised with flu and pneumococcal disease, it can help to reduce their risk of returning to hospital with other illnesses.