Flu vaccination found safe in surgical patients



Immunizing surgical patients against seasonal influenza before they are discharged from the hospital appears safe and is a sound strategy for expanding vaccine coverage, especially among people at high risk, according to a report published online March 14 in Annals of Internal Medicine.

All health care contacts, including hospitalizations, are considered excellent opportunities for influenza vaccination, and current recommendations advise that eligible inpatients receive the immunization before discharge. However, surgical patients don’t often get the flu vaccine before they leave the hospital, likely because of concerns that potential adverse effects like fever and myalgia could be falsely attributed to surgical complications. This would lead to unnecessary patient evaluations and could interfere with postsurgical care, said Sara Y. Tartof, Ph.D., and her associates in the department of research and evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena.

Flu Shot ©CAP53/

“Although this concern is understandable, few clinical data support it,” they noted.

“To provide clinical evidence that would either substantiate or refute” these concerns about perioperative flu vaccination, the investigators analyzed data in the electronic health records for 81,647 surgeries. All the study participants were deemed eligible for flu vaccination. They were socioeconomically and ethnically diverse, ranged in age from 6 months to 106 years, and underwent surgery at 14 hospitals during three consecutive flu seasons. Operations included general, cardiac, eye, dermatologic, ENT, neurologic, ob.gyn., oral/maxillofacial, orthopedic, plastic, podiatric, urologic, and vascular procedures.

Patients received a flu vaccine in 6,420 hospital stays for surgery – only 15% of 42,777 eligible hospitalizations – usually on the day of discharge. (The remaining 38,870 patients either had been vaccinated before hospital admission or were vaccinated more than a week after discharge and were not included in further analyses.)

Compared with eligible patients who didn’t receive a flu vaccine during hospitalization for surgery, those who did showed no increased risk for subsequent inpatient visits, ED visits, or clinical work-ups for infection. Patients who received the flu vaccine before discharge showed a minimally increased risk for outpatient visits during the week following hospitalization, but this was considered unlikely “to translate into substantial clinical impact,” especially when balanced against the benefit of immunization, Dr. Tartof and her associates said (Ann Intern Med. 2016 Mar 14. doi: 10.7326/M15-1667).

Giving the flu vaccine during a surgical hospitalization “is an opportunity to protect a high-risk population,” because surgery patients tend to be of an age, and to have comorbid conditions, that raise their risk for flu complications. In addition, previous research has reported that 39%-46% of adults hospitalized for influenza-related disease in a given year had been hospitalized during the preceding autumn, indicating that recent hospitalization also raises the risk for flu complications, the investigators said.

“Our data support the rationale for increasing vaccination rates among surgical inpatients,” they said.

This study was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Vaccine Safety Datalink program. Dr. Tartof reported receiving grants from Merck outside of this work; two of her associates reported receiving grants from Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline outside of this work.

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