Background: Influenza vaccination of elderly individuals is recommended worldwide and has been targeted toward the elderly and those at serious risk of complications.
Objectives: Our aim was to review the evidence of efficacy, effectiveness and safety of influenza vaccines in individuals aged 65 years or older.
Search strategy: We searched the following databases on The Cochrane Library, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (Issue 1, 2006); MEDLINE (January 1966 to March Week 3 2006); EMBASE (Dialog 1974 to 1979; SilverPlatter 1980 to December 2005); Biological Abstracts (SilverPlatter 1969 to December 2004); and Science Citation Index (Web of Science 1974 to December 2004).
Selection criteria: We considered randomised, quasi-randomised, cohort and case-control studies assessing efficacy against influenza (laboratory-confirmed cases) or effectiveness against influenza-like illness (ILI) or safety. Any influenza vaccine given independently, in any dose, preparation or time schedule, compared with placebo or with no intervention was considered.
Data collection and analysis: We grouped reports first according to the setting of the study (community or long-term care facilities) and then by level of viral circulation and vaccine matching. We further stratified by co-administration of pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) and by different types of influenza vaccines. We analysed the following outcomes: influenza, influenza-like illness, hospital admissions, complications and deaths.
Main results: Sixty-four studies were included in the efficacy / effectiveness assessment, resulting in 96 data sets. In homes for elderly individuals (with good vaccine match and high viral circulation) the effectiveness of vaccines against ILI was 23% (6% to 36%) and non-significant against influenza (RR 1.04: 95% CI 0.43 to 2.51). We found no correlation between vaccine coverage and ILI attack rate. Well matched vaccines prevented pneumonia (VE 46%; 30% to 58%), hospital admission (VE 45%; 16% to 64%) and deaths from influenza or pneumonia (VE 42%, 17% to 59%). In elderly individuals living in the community, vaccines were not significantly effective against influenza (RR 0.19; 95% CI 0.02 to 2.01), ILI (RR 1.05: 95% CI 0.58 to 1.89), or pneumonia (RR 0.88; 95% CI 0.64 to 1.20). Well matched vaccines prevented hospital admission for influenza and pneumonia (VE 26%; 12% to 38%) and all-cause mortality (VE 42%; 24% to 55%). After adjustment for confounders, vaccine performance was improved for admissions to hospital for influenza or pneumonia (VE* 27%; 21% to 33%), respiratory diseases (VE* 22%; 15% to 28%) and cardiac disease (VE* 24%; 18% to 30%); and for all-cause mortality (VE* 47%; 39% to 54%). The public health safety profiles of the vaccines appear to be acceptable.
Authors' conclusions: In long-term care facilities, where vaccination is most effective against complications, the aims of the vaccination campaign are fulfilled, at least in part. However, according to reliable evidence the usefulness of vaccines in the community is modest. The apparent high effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing death from all causes may reflect a baseline imbalance in health status and other systematic differences in the two groups of participants.