New research has demonstrated that flu jabs the over-50s reduce death by heart attacks by half (1). This is huge news because heart attacks are kill over 159,000 people every year in the UK (2).
Flu jabs 'protect from' heart attacks The association between influenza and cardiovascular disease comes as no surprise to those working in this field because we have long known that flu and other viral illnesses causes the blood to become sticky and to be more likely to clot and when we see a calcified plaque on coronary CT scanning in an otherwise low-risk individual we speculate that it is likely to be related to a previous influenza or flu-like illness.
It is frustrating that the study did not show a correlation between flu and heart attacks, only between flu jabs and a reduction in fatal heart attacks. That logically does not close the door to the possibility that flu vaccination protects in some other but that appears to be unlikely. Urgent research is needed to clarify this. Fortunately it can be carried out in a single flu season because fatal heart attacks are sufficiently common that the data can be collected in a relatively short period of time.
The immediate recommendation arising is that the age for free NHS flu jabs should be reduced to 50. However, in our view that is a knee-jerk reaction that misses the point. The thinking is that not many people of under 50 die of heart attacks and therefore the maximal measurable benefit will be in older patients. However, that doesn’t answer the question of whether those under 50 want to hit the magic age with the battle scars of old subclinical cardiac events in their coronary arteries.
As healthcare progressively moves into the field of pro-actively prolonging life and quality thereof, personal self-care increasingly involves minimising wear and tear throughout life. It is increasingly apparent that flu vaccination plays a vital role. The workplace is the obvious place to offer flu vaccination. There is limited Government funding for pro-active healthcare (which by prolonging life expectancy can clearly not be offset by any hope of a reduction in the burden on the state in the long run). The burden is increasingly for the individual or the employer.
Since there is evidence that flu vaccination in the corporate setting is self-funding because the reduction in sickness absence is greater than the cost (3), this is a great example of how the employer can offer a benefit to staff and help themselves at the same time.