People with heart disease are more likely to become seriously ill from the flu and other respiratory illnesses, including the coronavirus. Yet new research finds that only half of Americans with a history of heart disease or stroke report getting an annual flu shot, despite widespread recommendations to do so. Vaccination rates were even lower among Blacks and Hispanics, according to data presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 70th Annual scientific session.
Researchers say the findings need to refine efforts to ensure that flu vaccination is a routine part of quality cardiovascular care.
As a people, the U.S. health care system needs to do a better job of protecting a population that is at high risk for serious complications and death from the flu. As physicians, it is our job to help patients take these simple but effective preventative measures and also to determine what the barriers to vaccination are so that we can help our patients get around them. “
Varayini Pankayatselvan, MD, Resident of Internal Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and Study’s Lead Author
The study, which used data from the 2018-2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides the first real-world look at national flu vaccination patterns in adults with cardiovascular disease. Pankayatselvan said previous studies in this area have been limited to inpatient samples from hospitals.
A total of 101,210 respondents with a doctor’s diagnosis of heart attack, coronary heart disease or stroke were included in the analysis. They were asked if they had received a flu shot “within the past year”. Only 50.4% of this population reported being current with flu vaccination, which is remarkably low given that the ACC and other leading health organizations strongly recommend that anyone with cardiovascular disease get a flu every year.
Important findings showed no difference in vaccination rates between women and men. People who went to college would have gotten a flu shot more often in the past year compared to those who had less education. Black and Hispanic adults were about 20% less likely to get the flu vaccine compared to whites.
“We have not made much progress in closing persistent vaccination gaps among racial and ethnic groups, and preliminary data on COVID-19 vaccination also point to differences that are still a problem,” Pankayatselvan said. and added that people with cardiovascular disease are also being called upon to receive the vaccine COVID-19. “We need more research to better understand fax vaccines, inequalities in access to vaccines and also the value of seeking community partnerships to improve vaccinations across the board.”
Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes had received a flu shot significantly more often. Pankayatselvan said this suggests that these patients may have more routine access to providers who manage the flu vaccine in their office; she said previous studies have shown that compared to pulmonary and endocrinological practices, cardiology offices are much less likely to have the flu vaccine in place. Moreover, when people think of the flu or COVID-19, they are more likely to think of lung problems, although these infections can also cause heart problems. These infections can put extra stress on the body and heart by speeding up heartbeat, clearing up the body’s fight as a flight response and activating inflammation.
What is Pankayatselvan’s message to people with heart disease? “Next time you see a doctor – ask any doctor – about getting your flu shot. Your doctor can answer any questions you have and help you make a plan to get it every year,” she said. “It is an easy, fast and safe way to prevent many potential complications, including serious illness, pneumonia, heart attacks, heart attacks, hospitalization and even death.”
There are other benefits as well, Pankayatselvan said. “Even with flu on the side, we know that getting the flu shot can be a cardioprotective measure for hospitalized patients with flu. Previous research has shown that, among hospitalized patients with flu, the flu vaccine has been linked to a lower risk of acute heart attack. “In addition, some ischemic heart disease. In addition, some research suggests that the protective effect of getting the flu vaccine may be like stopping smoking and some heart medications,” she said.
Getting a flu shot also prevents people from transmitting the flu to others, which researchers hope is also true for the COVID-19 vaccine.
This study is limited because it relies on people’s reminder to get a flu shot. It also provides only a snapshot of vaccination patterns in 2018-2019; it remains to be seen whether the threat of COVID-19 may have prompted more people with heart disease to be vaccinated against the flu.
American College of Cardiology