There’s another great reason to get your yearly flu shot, based on a recent study that links the flu shot to a 10% lower risk of heart attack in patients after hospitalization. These findings will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session and support increased flu vaccination rates in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu kills as many as 56,000 Americans and causes an estimated 710,000 hospitalizations each year. That’s why guidelines recommend that all individuals—both children and adults—get vaccinated to help prevent getting the flu and spreading it to others.
However, the benefits of the flu vaccine don’t stop there. Studies have shown that the flu shot helps protect heart health, especially in older patients and those with pre-existing conditions. Based on the latest findings, simply getting vaccinated could reduce risk for heart attack—a life-threatening condition that affects an estimated 790,000 Americans each year.
Conducted by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine, this study looked at heart attack rates among nearly 30 million adults after being hospitalized in the U.S. in 2014. The goal was to see whether receiving the flu shot during a hospital stay had any impact on heart attack risk over the next year.
According to national data, only 2 percent of patients received the flu shot during their hospitalization. However, these patients had 10% lower risk of heart attack in the next year compared with patients who did not receive the flu shot during their stay. Authors estimate this difference translates to 5,000 fewer cases of heart attacks than would have been expected without the vaccine.
While this study did not look at the impact of flu shots received outside of the hospital, authors note that it’s the largest study to date to look at the impact of the flu shot on heart attack risk.
"You don’t need to be a medical professional to see this data and understand the importance of getting the flu vaccine," said lead author Mariam Khandaker, MD, internal medicine resident at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s and Mount Sinai West. "The flu vaccine should be considered primary prevention for heart attack, just like controlling your blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol."
Despite the known benefits, only 4 in 10 U.S. adults get a flu shot. The CDC estimates that only 37% of adults got the vaccine in the 2017–2018 flu season. As a result, authors encourage giving the flu shot during hospitalizations to increase vaccination rates.
"The flu vaccine is a very low-cost intervention, yet it’s still underutilized," Khandaker said. "It is important for physicians to educate patients about the benefits of vaccination in order to help them make informed decisions. Hospitals are a good venue to do this, in addition to other places such as the primary care clinic."