Funding the influenza vaccine for older people is worth the
cost, despite its lower effectiveness in that demographic,
Auckland University Immunisation Advisory Centre director Dr
Nikki Turner says.
Just how much value it has for older people is unclear, as Dr
Turner has questioned the validity of a figure in the study
of which she was a co-investigator, saying the sample of
Auckland area patients was too small to be statistically
The 2012 Southern Hemisphere Influenza, Vaccine
Effectiveness, Research and Surveillance report, recently
published in the journal Vaccine, indicated the flu jab was
effective for only 8% of older people.
It had been the first year the study was conducted, and the
research team planned to use a bigger sample size for the
Overall, the flu vaccine was found to be 39% effective.
She suggested the real figure for older people could be as
high as 50%, depending on the person's underlying health.
Older people needed the vaccine more, because they were more
likely to catch flu, and better targeted vaccines for older
people were being developed.
Asked if the money spent subsidising the jab for those 65 and
over could be directed to other health needs, Dr Turner said
the vaccine was cheap and ''effective enough''.
This month, the New Zealand Medical Journal published a study
of Canterbury patients in the 2012 season which indicated the
vaccine did not provide significant protection from the
University of Otago biostatistician Prof Peter Herbison said
he would not accept a vaccine with only 8% effectiveness.
He emphasised that that was at a personal level, and for the
population as a whole, there were probably still benefits.
''If it's only 8% effective, I would start to wonder whether
it's worth it or not.''
That one in 12 older people avoided flu based on 8%
effectiveness meant it was still probably a worthwhile spend
of health dollars.
Vaccination sceptic Dr Tat Loo, a Dunedin chiropractor, said
research demonstrated little benefit from flu vaccine.
''Overseas research suggests that concrete positive benefits
from the flu vaccination can be quite minimal, so I am a bit
surprised to see the NZ study suggesting such high rates [39%
overall] of benefit.''
While there might be an overall reduction in flu, the
likelihood of personal health benefit was low. It highlighted
the tension between individual benefit and population level
Health decision-makers should focus on overall patient
health, rather than being ''fixated'' on vaccination.
Information was lacking about flu vaccine effectiveness, Dr
''If patients cannot ascertain a clear idea of the relative
magnitude of risks, benefits and unknowns surrounding a
treatment, then true informed consent will be difficult or
impossible to obtain.''
Including administration, the vaccine costs more than $28 per
patient (excluding GST), general practice advice website Bpac
For subsidised groups, including those 65 and over, the
vaccine is funded by the Government.
Last year, 426,796 vaccines for older people were funded by
the Government, Pharmac figures show.
A spokesman for the drug buying agency said Pharmac regularly
reviewed new information about medicines it funded.
''Our view is that there continues to be a population health
benefit to funding influenza vaccine for the currently
Mornington Health Centre figures show that of the more than
3100 patients who have had the flu vaccine so far this
season, nearly 1300 were over 65.