Delaying flu shots until October could prevent 22K illnesses, study finds

Fall is the best time to start vaccinating people against the flu, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

For the study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) School of Medicine ran computer models to compare flu likelihood in adults over age 65 vaccinated between August and May — the typical vaccination period — or during a compressed period from October to May. Researchers forecasted figures on flu cases, hospitalizations and deaths using CDC data from the 2013-14 and 2014-15 flu seasons.

The study found a compressed vaccination period could save up to 258 lives and prevent up to 22,062 flu cases for normal and late flu seasons, compared to a typical vaccination period. However, if flu season peaks early, hundreds more adults would die during a compressed vaccination period.

"There's controversy in the public health community over whether influenza vaccination should happen as soon as the vaccine becomes available in August, or if it's better to wait until later in the fall," lead author Kenneth Smith, MD, professor of medicine and clinical and translational science at Pitt's School of Medicine and Pittsburgh-based UPMC physician, said in a press release.

"What we've found is that it's a balancing act, but if a clinician believes a patient will return for vaccination in the fall, then our analysis shows that it is best if they advise that patient to wait," he added.

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