Commentary

How to respond to flu vaccine doubters

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References

‘I’M AFRAID IT WILL TRIGGER AN IMMUNE RESPONSE THAT WILL MAKE MY ASTHMA WORSE’

A recent systematic review and meta-analysis showed that the inactivated influenza vaccine is not associated with asthma exacerbation.23 However, the nasal live-attenuated influenza vaccine is contraindicated in children 2 to 4 years old who have asthma and should be used with caution in persons with asthma 5 years old and older. In the systematic review, influenza vaccine prevented 59% to 78% of asthma attacks leading to emergency visits or hospitalization.23 In other immune-mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, influenza vaccine does not precipitate exacerbations.24

‘I HAD AN ORGAN TRANSPLANT, AND I’M AFRAID THE FLU SHOT WILL CAUSE ORGAN REJECTION’

A study of 51,730 kidney transplant recipients found that receipt of the inactivated influenza vaccine in the first year after transplant was associated with a lower risk of subsequent allograft loss (adjusted hazard ratio 0.77; 95% confidence interval 0.69–0.85; P < .001) and death (adjusted hazard ratio 0.82; 95% confidence interval 0.76–0.89; P < .001).25 In the same study, although acute rejection in the first year was not associated with influenza vaccination, influenza infection in the first year was associated with rejection (odds ratio 1.58; 95% confidence interval 1.10–2.26; P < 0.001), but not with graft loss or death. Solid organ transplant recipients should receive the inactivated influenza vaccine starting 3 months after transplant.26

Influenza vaccination has not been shown to precipitate graft-vs-host disease in hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients. These patients should also receive the inactivated influenza vaccine starting 3 to 6 months after transplant.27

The nasal live-attenuated influenza vaccine is contraindicated in these immunocompromised patients.

‘I’M PREGNANT, AND I DON’T WANT TO EXPOSE MY UNBORN BABY TO ANYTHING POTENTIALLY HARMFUL’

The morbidity and mortality risk from influenza is high in children under 2 years old because of low immunogenicity to flu vaccine. This is particularly true in children younger than 6 months, but the vaccine is not recommended in this population. The best way to protect infants is for all household members to be vaccinated against the flu.

Equally important, morbidity and mortality risk from influenza is much higher in pregnant women than in the general population. Many studies have shown the value of influenza vaccination during pregnancy for both mothers and their infants. A recently published study showed that 18% of infants who developed influenza required hospitalization.28 In that study, prenatal and postpartum maternal influenza vaccination decreased the odds of influenza in infants by 61% and 53%, respectively. Another study showed that vaccine effectiveness did not vary by gestational age at vaccination.29 A post hoc analysis of an influenza vaccination study in pregnant women suggested that the vaccine was also associated with decreased rates of pertussis in these women.30

Healthcare providers should try to understand the public’s misconceptions31 about seasonal influenza and influenza vaccines in order to best address them.

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