Public Release:  Green light for flu vaccine in transplant recipients

Vaccination is safe and lowers risk of organ loss and death

American Society of Nephrology

Getting vaccinated against the flu lowers kidney transplant recipients' risk of organ loss and death, according to a study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society Nephrology (CJASN). The results suggest that concerns about the safety of the influenza vaccine in transplant recipients are unwarranted.

Influenza can cause severe illness and even death in some individuals. Organ transplant recipients and those taking immunosuppressant medications face a particularly high risk of dying after being infected. Protection against the flu is especially important for these patients, but earlier reports have suggested that influenza vaccination might activate an immune response that could trigger rejection of transplanted organs. Some studies have also suggested that the immunosuppressant medications that transplant recipients take may decrease the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine.

To investigate these issues, Frank Hurst, MD (Walter Reed Army Medical Center and F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine) and his colleagues assessed Medicare claims for influenza vaccination and influenza infections in 51,730 adult Medicare patients first transplanted from January 2000 to July 2006 and were followed through October 2006. There were 9,678 (18.7%) patients who were vaccinated against the flu in the first year after transplantation. These individuals were 23% less likely to experience organ loss and 18% less likely to die during the study period than individuals who were not vaccinated. A total of 310 (0.6%) patients got the flu. They were no more likely to experience organ loss than patients who did not get the flu.

These findings do not support withholding immunization on the basis of concerns that the influenza vaccine could negatively affect transplanted organs. The authors noted, however, that no data are currently available to prove that influenza vaccination actually prevents the flu in transplant recipients.

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Study co-authors include Jessica Lee, MD, Kevin Abbott, MD (Walter Reed Army Medical Center and F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine); Rahul Jindal, MD, PhD (Walter Reed Army Medical Center); and Lawrence Agodoa, MD (National Institutes of Health).

Disclosures: The authors reported no financial disclosures.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy of the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Army, the Department of Defense, or the United States government.

The article entitled, "Outcomes Associated with Influenza Vaccination in the First Year after Kidney Transplantation," will appear online at http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/ on April 28, 2011, doi 10.2215/CJN.05430610.

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Founded in 1966, and with more than 12,000 members, the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) leads the fight against kidney disease by educating health professionals, sharing new knowledge, advancing research, and advocating the highest quality care for patients.

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