CHICAGO (AP) – Yearly flu shots significantly reduce deaths from all causes in people 65 and older, Dutch researchers found in a study that underscores the seriousness of this year’s U.S. vaccine shortage.

Dr. A.C.G. Voordouw at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and colleagues analyzed the effectiveness of the Netherlands’ nationwide vaccine program using data on 26,071 residents 65 and older from 1996 through 2002.

Those receiving flu shots ranged from 64 percent in 1996 to 74 percent in 1999 -similar to U.S. rates among the elderly. A total of 5,095 people never got vaccinated.

There were 3,485 deaths from various causes during the study period.

Compared with unvaccinated people, those who had any flu shots were 22 percent less likely to die of any cause during the period studied. Compared with people who got just one shot, those who were vaccinated annually were 15 percent less likely to die of any cause – and 28 percent less likely to die during seasons when flu reached epidemic levels.

The findings support the practice of giving yearly flu shots to all elderly people, healthy or not, Voordouw said.

Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University flu expert and adviser to the government, said the study “reinforces even more our need for a secure supply of influenza vaccine.”

The shortage was caused by contamination problems at a British plant that was to have provided almost half the U.S. vaccine supply.

Other at-risk people advised to get the shots include children ages 6 months to 23 months, pregnant women and people with underlying illnesses.

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