How to Prepare for the Chicago Winter: New Studies Show Flu Vaccine May Be Ineffective For Elderly

Every fall my now 93 year-old mom calls and reminds me that with the Chicago winter on its way, it is imperative that I get my annual flu shot. Being an obedient son, I comply by hustling over to the nearest clinic to get that shot. And of course, my mom also gets her prescribed flu shot and has thankfully avoided the dreaded flu during the winter season.

But now immunologists are coming forward with new studies reporting that the vaccine doesn’t work very well for those over 70. Yet the over 70 age bracket accounts for 75% of all the flu deaths.

When explaining the drastic shift in these new studies, researchers pointed to the faulty logic used in prior studies. Instead of evaluating the effectiveness of the vaccine against the flu, the studies instead seemed to support evidence of who received the shot and who didn’t.

People who are health conscious, like my mom, are more likely to get an annual flu shot. Whereas people that are frail and have trouble taking care of themselves are less likely to leave home to get the vaccine. And this second group is at greater risk of death, with or without the flu shot.

A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that for people aged 60 to 69 the flu vaccine was effective in preventing the flu 57% of the time, while it was only effective in preventing the flu 23% of the time for those aged 70 and above.

Researchers have explained this evidence as being due to the fact that your immune system slows down with age. And since vaccines work by helping the immune system recognize and respond specific threats, if your immune system is slower the vaccine will be less effective.

Yet another showed that even though the number of people receiving the flu vaccine tripled over the last 20 years, there has been no drop in the death rate. This further supports the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine for elderly populations.

Regardless of which side of the issue they are on, all physicians are still advising that the elderly get a flu shot this winter, and continue to do so until a more effective prevention against the flu is found. In addition, elderly people should take care to avoid sick people and practice frequent hand washing to fight germs. So for the foreseeable future, I will continue to get my annual flu shot on the insistence of my mom and encourage her that her foresight to get her own shot is right. It can’t hurt.

Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing law in Chicago for over 30 years, servicing Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bridgeview, Evanston, Wilmette, Forest Park, Niles, and Streamwood.

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