This very impressive statistic has doubtlessly informed public health strategy in the care of the elderly since it was highlighted by WHO in 2002.
The claim is based on one, dubious, study - and it turns out to be not true. In fact, the flu vaccine is ineffective, as a review of all of the studies has discovered.
In one major study, 95 per cent of elderly people who were vaccinated developed pneumonia that year, and nearly one per cent died from the infection. In a study of healthcare workers, another target group for annual vaccination, 39 per cent died from pneumonia, despite having the flu jab.
The vaccination's poor protection extends to younger people in the community. In a study of adults below the age of 65, 67 per cent of those vaccinated still had influenza later in the season, and a similar total was registered in a group of children aged above six years.
So why do our health services spend millions in advertising and administering a vaccination that doesn't work? Nobody is sure, but we guess everyone stopped reading once they had seen the WHO statement.
(Source: British Medical Journal, 2006; 333: 912-5).
E-news broadcast 2 November 2006 No.306 [Subscribe]