Do you know why getting the flu shot is recommended for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

It was estimated that approximately 36.5 million Europeans were living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2020(1). Many people do not even realise that they are living with this condition(2). The most common cause of COPD is smoking(3). If you have COPD, catching the flu can be particularly risky for you as it can lead you to develop serious flu-related complications.(4).

Let’s take a closer look at why people with COPD are more likely to fall critically ill from influenza and how the flu vaccine is linked with reducing flu-related hospitalisation and death in people with COPD. 

Higher risk of flu-related complications

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease happens when your lungs are inflamed, damaged and narrowed(2), this means your respiratory system is not performing at its optimal level. In addition, this is not a condition that can be cured or reversed(2). The influenza virus, responsible for the flu, mainly causes respiratory symptoms(5) and can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia(6). So, when you have COPD and you catch the flu, your already stressed respiratory system is put under additional pressure. This can lead to serious consequences. There is evidence that respiratory failure takes place more frequently during or immediately after an acute inflammatory illness like the flu (7).

Having COPD can also limit the types of medication you can take for treating the flu (7). This may result in you taking a longer time to recover from the illness and putting you at a higher risk of developing more severe symptoms that requires hospitalization (7).   

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and influenza vaccination effect

What can you do to protect yourself from the flu? Research has shown that influenza vaccines are associated with reducing flu-related hospitalization by 38%(8) and death by 75%(9) among people with COPD. A third study found that 13.7% of influenza cases in patients with COPD could be prevented by the influenza vaccine(10). Getting the flu vaccine is not the only way of protecting yourself from the influenza virus, but it is considered the most effective (11). For this flu season, make sure you check with your health provider about your COPD condition and ask about getting the flu vaccination.

(1) Benjafield A, Tellez D, Barrett M, et al. An estimate of the European prevalence of COPD in 2050. Eur Respir J. 2021;58(65): OA2866.
(2) Overview Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. NHS. Available at: Accessed on: 15 August 2022
(3) Lung conditions. Available at: Accessed on: 15 August 2022
(4) People at higher risk of flu complications. CDC. Available at: Accessed on: 15 August 2022
(5) Factsheet about seasonal influenza. ECDC. Available at: Accessed on: 15 August 2022
(6) Disease facts about seasonal influenza. ECDC. Available at: Accessed on: 15 August 2022
(7) Flu vaccinations and long-term respiratory conditions. NHS. Available at:…/Respiratory-Conditions-and-Flu-Vaccine-Importance.pdf. Accessed on: 15 August 2022
(8) Mulpuru S, Li L, Ye L, et al. Effectiveness of influenza vaccination on hospitalizations and risk factors for severe outcomes in hospitalized patients with COPD. Chest. 2019;155(1):69-78.
(9) The impact of flu vaccination on survival for elderly men with COPD. Physician’s Weekly. Available at: on: 15 August 2022
(10) Martínez-Baz I, Casado I, Navascués A, Portillo ME, Guevara M, Ezpeleta C, Castilla J. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and influenza vaccination effect in preventing outpatient and inpatient influenza cases. Sci Rep. 2022 Mar 22;12(1):4862. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-08952-0. PMID: 35318406; PMCID: PMC8940916.
(11) Seasonal influenza vaccines. ECDC. Available at:…/seasonal-influenza-vaccines. Accessed on: 15 August 2022


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