Flu shots help prevent early death in heart disease patients — Yet 1 in 3 skip vaccination

DALLAS — Vaccines can be a divisive subject in certain circles, but a recent set of research has found yet another reason why a yearly flu shot is a smart idea. Annual influenza vaccinations can help prevent further illness and premature death among people already suffering from heart disease, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Scientific Sessions conference.

Troublingly, the research also revealed another trend: nearly one in three heart disease patients skip their annual flu shot each year.

The researchers examined the vaccination rates of over 15,000 people over the age of 40 who had experienced a stroke, heart attack, or similar conditions stemming from clogged arteries. This population sample was derived from the national Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys conducted between 2008 and 2015.

Even among those who have health insurance and access to regular medical care, about 30% still didn’t get a flu shot each year. Uninsured, low income individuals had the highest non-vaccination rate (65%).

“Cardiologists, primary care doctors and other clinicians need to have a conversation about flu vaccination well in advance of the onset of flu season to encourage patients to have routine follow-up appointments early in the flu season,” says lead study author Gowtham Rama Harsha Grandhi M.B.B.S. in a media release. “Additionally, they should be offering vaccination and possibly providing walk-in appointments for flu vaccination at their centers.”

The researchers were sure to note that their findings were collected via surveys, not medical records. Consequently, it is possible that some inaccuracies in patient recall may have influenced the study’s results. Furthermore, they were unable to properly investigate vaccine rates among young adults due to the fact that there weren’t many survey participants within the age group of 18-39 who had heart disease.

“Our study sheds light on key inequalities related to disparities in flu vaccination rates. We hope that flu vaccinations among heart disease patients becomes an integral part of quality of care measures and will facilitate processes to limit these unintended care gaps among the most vulnerable in our society,” adds senior author Khurram Nasir, Chief of Cardiovascular Prevention Houston Methodist. “Future studies should put emphasis on patient and health system factors driving these disparities and practical interventions to overcome these challenges.”

“We are partnering with the American Lung Association and the American Diabetes Association to collectively deliver a message to providers and to the general public that all adults and all children, by and large, should be getting influenza vaccinations year after year, but in particular, for our patients who have chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes or emphysema, it is critically important to get that flu vaccine. Because the consequence of the flu with complications is far, far greater for those with chronic diseases,” comments Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the American Heart Association’s Chief Medical Officer for Prevention.

The AHA Scientific Sessions is an annual exchange of the leading research in cardiovascular science for clinicians and researchers.

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