Influenza vaccination is an important strategy in the prevention of exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Despite the proven benefits, there are patients who are reluctant to have this intervention for fear of triggering an exacerbation. There are very few studies looking at the effect of the vaccination on exacerbation rates of COPD in primary care.
Medical records were obtained from six primary care practices in the Derbyshire area (UK), and 293 pairs of patients were selected. All patients had a diagnosis of COPD based on post bronchodilator spirometry. Patients were matched according to age, sex, severity of COPD and comorbidities. The first group of patients received the influenza vaccination while the other group served as a control (either never received the vaccination or received it at a later date). The incidence of COPD exacerbations of both groups was recorded.
There were 21 exacerbations in the control group compared to 11 in the vaccinated group. The difference in exacerbation rates between groups was not statistically significant (McNemar's p=0.11). In the 2 weeks after receiving the influenza vaccination, the risk of experiencing an exacerbation in this group of patients was 0.52 in the vaccinated group compared to the non-vaccinated group (OR 0.52, CI 0.29 to 1.14).
Patients with COPD should be reassured that the influenza vaccination is safe and does not cause an increase in exacerbations. They should be encouraged to take up the vaccination annually before the onset of winter.