Study Reveals Flu Shot Fails to Protect At-Risk Patients from Deadly Infections

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Millions of Americans depend on the flu shot each year. But a new study says that the flu shot may not protect the most vulnerable in society. The study finds that young people with leukemia are equally likely to get the flu each year whether or not they get a flu shot.

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The Study Tracked Young Leukemia Patients

The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital study tracked instances of flu in children with leukemia. It looked at rates of patients getting the flu for three different seasons. They published the findings in the Journal of Pediatrics on October 16, 2017. Elisabeth Adderson, M.D. is the lead researcher on the study.

Researchers looked at 498 patients total; 354 of the patients got the preventative flu shots and 144 did not. The study found that incidents of flu between the immunized and non-immunized groups were nearly identical.

What Can the Public Do?

Researchers say there are still things that we can do to prevent the spread of the flu. For one, hand washing is extremely beneficial especially for and around high-risk individuals. In addition, friends, family and others around individuals with leukemia should make sure that they get vaccinated. This can help prevent them from spreading the flu to the leukemia patient.

Assessing the risks

Flu can be a big problem for children with other medical issues. While the flu can be a significant danger to all children, those who already have other health issues may be at an even greater risk. Researchers say that children with cancer don’t always react as well to the flu vaccine as healthy children. That is, their bodies may not build up an optimum level of anti-bodies in response to the vaccine. Thus when they encounter the flu virus, they’re not always as able to fight back.

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In addition to not seeing a benefit from the flu vaccine, the leukemia patients also didn’t benefit from a booster shot. The patients involved got the trivalent vaccine which is supposed to cover three different strains of flu. The strains can change each flu season. If the vaccine isn’t a close match for the flu viruses in a particular season, the vaccine isn’t as effective as it could be.

Leukemia Treatments May be to Blame

Adderson says that leukemia treatments can leave patients unable to fight infection in a normal way. She says that may be an explanation for the results of the research. In addition, she wants additional research to identify what common characteristics may explain why some leukemia patients benefit from the vaccine and others do not.

For the millions of Americans who rely on the flu shot each year, the results are troubling. They rely on drug manufacturers to provide a vaccine that’s calculated to prevent the flu and that’s effective for its purpose. The public is left to weigh the pros and cons of the flu vaccine as the study raises questions of its effectiveness.

Learn more about Autoimmune Disorders and Flu Vaccines.

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