Getting a flu vaccine doesn’t just protect you — it may also help older folks in your community avoid the miserable illness, new research says.
Higher flu vaccination rates for young and middle-aged adults seem to lower the risk of flu among older people. That’s important because seniors have a greater risk for serious flu-related complications, the researchers said.
“Our findings suggest that flu vaccination should be encouraged among low-risk adults not just for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of higher-risk adults in their community, such as the elderly,” study author Glen Taksler, a Cleveland Clinic researcher, said in a news release from the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“In round numbers, we estimated that about one in 20 cases of influenza-related illness in the elderly could have been prevented if more non-elderly adults had received the flu vaccine,” he said.
Although the study suggests a cause-and-effect relationship, it wasn’t designed to prove one, the researchers noted.
For the study, Taksler and colleagues reviewed flu vaccination rates for adults age 18 to 64 across the United States. They also looked at reported flu-related illnesses among 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries age 65 years and older between 2002 and 2010.
In counties where at least 31 percent of adults younger than 65 got the flu vaccine, older people had a 21 percent lower chance of a flu-related illness, the study said. When older people were also vaccinated, the reduction in risk doubled, the researchers found.
The study was published in the Sept. 10 Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The researchers didn’t see a link between vaccination in kids and flu in older people. This suggests that vaccines for adults who have more direct contact with older people may offer the greatest benefit, the researchers explained.
These study results could have implications for vaccination policies, researchers said. They could also help doctors discuss the benefits of getting a seasonal flu vaccine, which is particularly important for those living in large cities where older people have routine contact with other adults, such as on crowded buses or subways.
Up to 90 percent of flu-related deaths occur in people 65 and over, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The CDC currently recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive the seasonal flu vaccine.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides more information on older people and the flu.