Pharmacists play a key role in dispensing flu vaccines, which can be a lifesaver for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A bout of the flu may not only prompt COPD flare-ups—a leading cause of hospital admissions and readmissions—but in patients with COPD, the flu can lead to life-threatening complications.
Seasonal flu shots are recommended for the general public, especially individuals over 65. They are an even more important health precaution for anyone diagnosed with a respiratory condition such as COPD. Yet, despite the fact that people with COPD are vulnerable to flu complications, it’s estimated that only 50% to 60% of patients with COPD are vaccinated.
Data collected during a 2019 study, published in CHEST, documented that vulnerability. The multicenter prospective cohort study collected data from 46 hospitals that were part of the Canadian Immunization Research Network (CIRN) Serious Outcomes Surveillance (SOS) Network. Data was collected from 4,755 hospitalized patients with COPD, of which 4,198 (88.3%) had known vaccination status. The study noted a 38% reduction in influenza-related hospitalizations in vaccinated vs unvaccinated patients. The results also suggested that patients with COPD are at a higher risk of dying if hospitalized with the flu, compared to the general population.
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Despite the generally recognized recommendation that seasonal flu shots are a good idea, the study noted that 34% of the hospitalized patients with COPD they followed were not vaccinated in the season during which they were hospitalized. More research may be needed to find out why the percentage of vaccinations in COPD patients is so low.
In addition, the study also noted that antiviral use in the hospital can help reduce flu-associated complications, even though doctors may be reluctant to prescribe antiviral medication 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. More research is needed to determine whether administering antiviral medication, regardless of the lag between symptom onset and the start of therapy, could improve outcomes and should be universally initiated.
Flu vaccines have the potential to reduce flu-related hospitalizations and improve the outcome of illness in patients with COPD. Pharmacists can help improve those odds by reminding patients with COPD that it’s time for a flu shot.