Did you get a vaccine booster recently? Here’s what the new study says

Vaccine boosters — those large medications or shots that some people get in places where vaccines are limited — have been linked to some health problems. They may make an older person more vulnerable…

Did you get a vaccine booster recently? Here's what the new study says

Vaccine boosters — those large medications or shots that some people get in places where vaccines are limited — have been linked to some health problems.

They may make an older person more vulnerable to infections because they give the immune system an extra boost, according to a report published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“This study adds to a long list of evidence showing that immunizing adults — and particularly seniors — may have compromised immune systems or genetic susceptibilities that affect the development of infection or its management,” says Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

This study adds to a long list of evidence showing that immunizing adults — and particularly seniors — may have compromised immune systems or genetic susceptibilities that affect the development of infection or its management.

Vaccines are “incredibly good,” Offit says. “Yet vaccines are supposed to only protect adults, and the vast majority of deaths [from a vaccine-preventable disease] are among adults.”

A 2011 article in JAMA estimated the number of deaths nationwide from vaccine-preventable diseases at about 70,000 per year, Offit says. “How many children die from pertussis? How many die from measles? When our grandparents had their first flu, how many children died?”

Between 2000 and 2010, about 22 percent of the deaths from the influenza virus involved adults, according to a survey of children’s hospitals.

That survey found that children received one influenza vaccine between 2000 and 2000. They received four or more subsequent doses between 2004 and 2010. There was a marked increase in the number of older adults receiving influenza vaccines from 2004 to 2014: from 45 percent to 67 percent, according to the study.

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While influenza vaccines work well, they can cause side effects, including fatigue, a cough, soreness and a low red blood cell count, Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist, said at a news conference to announce the JAMA study. The study involved 19 investigators from six state departments of health. They chose only adults to investigate.

There was a sharp decline in the number of older adults getting the flu shot from 2004 to 2014, but only 6 percent of seniors died from the virus in 2014, Dr. Janet Holt, lead author of the study, said at the news conference. “There are age-related delays in the immune response,” Holt says, which may explain the findings. She also said there was a rising prevalence of vaccination in hospitals.

There was a steep decline in the number of older adults getting the flu shot from 2004 to 2014, but only 6 percent of seniors died from the virus in 2014, Dr. Janet Holt, lead author of the study, said at the news conference. “There are age-related delays in the immune response,” Holt says, which may explain the findings. She also said there was a rising prevalence of vaccination in hospitals.

Holt recommended that federal drug regulators consider allowing “middle-of-the-road” vaccines to be sold without doctor-prescribed doses. The current requirement requires people in nursing homes and other facilities to visit their doctors to be given the medication.

Schaffner said the study found “the immaturity of our immune systems,” which can lead to problems with influenza vaccine, is not widespread. Older adults had good reactions to different formulations of vaccines, he said.

“Any review would find there is a fairly modest level of adverse reaction.” Holt says. “The findings are disturbing, but it is really only 19 out of 200 deaths.”

Children and teenagers, who tend to get more shots than adults do, should not be worried about being overlooked for immunizations, Holt says. They might need vaccines but never get them, or their pediatricians and nurses do not ask their parents.

Those in nursing homes with limited access to the medicine and vaccinations should contact their pediatricians, she says.

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