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Arch Intern Med. 2012 Apr 9;172(7):548-54. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2238.

Influenza vaccine effectiveness in patients on hemodialysis: an analysis of a natural experiment.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7435, USA.



Although the influenza vaccine is recommended for patients with end-stage renal disease, little is known about its effectiveness. Observational studies of vaccine effectiveness (VE) are challenging because vaccinated subjects may be healthier than unvaccinated subjects.


Using US Renal Data System data, we estimated VE for influenza-like illness, influenza/pneumonia hospitalization, and mortality in adult patients undergoing hemodialysis by using a natural experiment created by the year-to-year variation in the match of the influenza vaccine to the circulating virus. We compared vaccinated patients in matched years (1998, 1999, and 2001) with a mismatched year (1997) using Cox proportional hazards models. Ratios of hazard ratios compared vaccinated patients between 2 years and unvaccinated patients between 2 years. We calculated VE as 1 - effect measure.


Vaccination rates were less than 50% each year. Conventional analysis comparing vaccinated with unvaccinated patients produced average VE estimates of 13%, 16%, and 30% for influenza-like illness, influenza/pneumonia hospitalization, and mortality, respectively. When restricted to the preinfluenza period, results were even stronger, indicating bias. The pooled ratio of hazard ratios comparing matched seasons with a placebo season resulted in a VE of 0% (95% CI, -3% to 2%) for influenza-like illness, 2% (-2% to 5%) for hospitalization, and 0% (-3% to 3%) for death.


Relative to a mismatched year, we found little evidence of increased VE in subsequent well-matched years, suggesting that the current influenza vaccine strategy may have a smaller effect on morbidity and mortality in the end-stage renal disease population than previously thought. Alternate strategies (eg, high-dose vaccine, adjuvanted vaccine, and multiple doses) should be investigated.

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