[Editor's Note: The current public discussion around the search for a COVID-19 vaccine continues, but we do have a flu vaccine. Preventing the flu through vaccination saves lives.]
In 2018, about 80,000 people in the U.S. died from the flu, making 2017 to 2018 the worst flu season in more than three decades, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While nobody can predict what will happen this season, everyone should make a point of getting the flu vaccine – especially if you have psoriatic disease. It's not too late to get a flu shot past February, when peak season typically ends, according to the CDC.
“Psoriasis patients are at increased risk for flu-related pneumonia and other respiratory infections,” says Megan Noe, M.D., MPH, a dermatologist and faculty member at Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. That’s why every psoriasis patient’s preventative health plan should include the flu vaccine. “The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the side effects, which are typically mild,” she says, and no worse in psoriasis patients than in anyone else.
Noe is a co-author of a 2019 study, funded in part by the National Psoriasis Foundation, that found lower flu vaccination rates among people with psoriasis than among rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients.
Noe and her colleagues named several variables influencing who gets vaccinated and who doesn’t. Women are more likely to seek preventive care than men. Predictably, female psoriasis patients get their annual flu shot at higher rates compared with their male counterparts.
Age turns out to be an even bigger factor. Patients 50 or older in both the psoriasis and RA groups were equally likely to get the flu vaccine. But significantly fewer psoriasis patients under 50 opt for vaccinations compared with the RA cohort.
“Psoriasis and RA are both chronic inflammatory diseases, and they’re often treated with the same medications,” Noe explains. But as a group, psoriasis patients tend to be younger than RA patients. The findings echo the idea that older people care more about preventive health than younger ones do – and they tend to act on that concern by getting a flu shot.
Psoriasis patients with comorbidities such as asthma, diabetes, chronic liver disease and psoriatic arthritis are also more likely to get a flu shot. In other words, the more conditions you’re dealing with, the more likely you are to seek preventive care.
Even if you’re young and male, and psoriasis is your only major health concern, you should still get your flu vaccine, urges Noe.
Dermatologists can do their part to improve vaccination rates among their psoriasis patients, she says, especially younger ones. “Simply having a dermatologist say ‘Get your flu shot’ is often enough of a nudge. We can also help to defuse concerns about vaccination in general.”
Noe and her co-authors plan to conduct further research into why some people with psoriasis aren’t receiving the flu vaccine. Researchers ultimately hope to improve vaccination rates and reduce hospitalizations among people with psoriasis.
The study, “Influenza Vaccination Rates in Adults with Psoriasis Compared to Adults with Other Chronic Diseases,” was published in February 2019 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.