Vaccines for preventing seasonal influenza and its complications in people aged 65 or older
Influenza vaccination of elderly individuals is recommended worldwide as people aged 65 and older are at a higher risk of complications, hospitalisations and deaths from influenza. This review looked at evidence from experimental and non-experimental studies carried out over 40 years of influenza vaccination. We included 75 studies. These were grouped first according to study design and then the setting (community or long-term care facilities). The results are mostly based on non-experimental (observational) studies, which are at greater risk of bias, as not many good quality trials were available. Trivalent inactivated vaccines are the most commonly used influenza vaccines. Due to the poor quality of the available evidence, any conclusions regarding the effects of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older cannot be drawn. The public health safety profile of the vaccines appears to be acceptable.
We included 75 studies. Overall we identified 100 data sets. We identified one RCT assessing efficacy and effectiveness. Although this seemed to show an effect against influenza symptoms it was underpowered to detect any effect on complications (1348 participants). The remainder of our evidence base included non-RCTs. Due to the general low quality of non-RCTs and the likely presence of biases, which make interpretation of these data difficult and any firm conclusions potentially misleading, we were unable to reach clear conclusions about the effects of the vaccines in the elderly.
The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older. To resolve the uncertainty, an adequately powered publicly-funded randomised, placebo-controlled trial run over several seasons should be undertaken.