Statins is the popular choice for many Americans who are looking to lower their cholesterol. However, two new studies suggest that it may be rendering flu vaccines ineffective, and putting millions of people at risk
The researchers worked with groups that were taking statins and those that weren’t. The results found that statins had a negative effect on a person’s immune system response to a vaccine. Use of the medication led to a higher likelihood of one acquiring not just the flu, but also meant that the person had a higher likelihood of suffering from a respiratory infection.
The findings were published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. They highlight that senior citizens face a higher risk of complications, and could also lose their lives to the flu. This age group has a higher tendency of taking statins to avoid strokes and heart attacks that can prove fatal.
At this point, while the research does show that statins has an adverse effect on a person’s immune system reaction to the flu vaccine, how precisely it interacts with the vaccines is not known. Dr. Robert Atmar, an infectious disease researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston wrote an editorial on the studies and outlined that patients should continue taking both medications for the time being.
“Statins shouldn’t be stopped because they already have been shown to lead to significant benefits such as decreased mortality due to cardiovascular events,” Atmar told Yahoo News via email. “Patients should also continue to get vaccinated against influenza because it is still the best way to prevent getting sick,” he added.
One of the studies looked at data of more than 5,000 people that were 65 or older. The study looked at the different types of vaccines available during the 2010 to 2011 and 2009 to 2010 period. The study placed an emphasis on flu seasons in the Philippines, Panama, Colombia and U.S.
Within the study, it was observed that after over three weeks of receiving the flu vaccine, individuals that were not on statins produced 38% to 67% more antibodies against the flu as opposed to those who were on the drug, or other similar alternatives.
However, the authors of the study admitted that because statins use was not randomly assigned there remains a possibility that the lower efficacy of the vaccines may have been the result of other factors. The authors are affiliated with Novartis, a firm that leads the production of flu vaccines.
“We felt the studies are important to bring this issue into the open so that the results can be verified by others and, most importantly, strategies can be developed to optimally protect this high risk group against influenza,” Steven Black, lead author of the study said.
He also pointed out that people could opt to stop using the medication for a given period of time prior to getting their vaccine so as to reduce the chances of it not working properly. However, for people that have serious heart conditions and high risk for strokes, this could prove risky.
Such individuals could be given multiple doses of the vaccine, or even given a more potent dose, to try and limit the loss of efficiency, though this could pose logistic challenges, Black observed.
The second study looked into the numbers in terms of respiratory illnesses that had a link with the flu within the 2002 to 2011 period. The study focused on people that were 45 years of age or older, and received their healthcare through Kaiser Permanente in Georgia.
The vaccine was 26.6% effective in protecting a person against such infections, when they were not taking statins. However, just 12.6% of the group that was on the medication was secure from the flu.
The lead author of the study, Saad Omer, however, pointed out that despite its lack of efficiency, the flu shot remains the best possible method through which the flu can be prevented in the elderly.