Last updated at 9:40 AM on 17th February 2010
The annual £115million cost of giving flu jabs to the elderly may be a complete waste of money, a major review said yesterday.
The injections fail to prevent deaths or provide the expected health benefits, according to researchers.
They analysed data from 75 studies to determine whether vaccination of older people works.
The flu jab does not provide the expected
health benefits to the elderly, new research shows
The researchers - whose findings are published today in The Cochrane Library - could identify only one 'gold standard' clinical trial where the results revealed if having a jab prevented an attack of the flu or mitigated complications.
The remainder looked at outcomes such as producing antibodies to flu viruses in the blood.
Lead researcher Dr Tom Jefferson of the Cochrane Collaboration in Rome, Italy, said limited reliable evidence suggested flu vaccination has only 'modest' effectiveness.
He said: 'Our estimates are consistently below those usually quoted by economists and in decision making.
'But until we have all available evidence, it is hard to reach any clear conclusions about the effectiveness of influenza vaccines in older people.
'As the evidence is so scarce at the moment, we should be looking at other strategies to complement vaccinations.
Over 15million people in England receive a flu jab annually
'Some of these are very simple things like personal hygiene, and adequate food and water.
'Meanwhile, we need to undertake a high- quality, publicly funded trial that runs over several seasons to try to resolve some of the uncertainties we are currently facing.'
The Cochrane Library is a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organisation that evaluates healthcare research using protocols that identify relevant trial data which is pooled together and analysed.
Everyone aged 65 and over and younger people with certain health conditions are eligible for a free jab on the NHS, costing £115million.
Every year more than 15million people in England alone receive a free flu jab, with around three out of four aged 65 or over getting vaccinated.
Controversy has grown over the benefits of vaccinating those over 65, with at least two major studies in the past two years claiming they have been 'greatly exaggerated', and there are no figures to back up claims that lives are being saved.
In a similar study in 2008, Dr Jefferson said there was little evidence to show the flu jab had any impact on the length of hospital stays, time off work and death rates in healthy adults.
In the most recent study, co-authored by Dr Jefferson, he looked at four trials on the efficacy of flu vaccines in healthcare staff who work with the elderly.
Researchers found the results were 'inconclusive', with each trial being of inadequate quality and reaching implausible conclusions so it was impossible to ascertain whether vaccinating workers cut deaths and prevented symptoms in people over 60.
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation for the Department of Health, said: 'This review does not provide any new evidence.
'We know that influenza vaccines, like other vaccines, are less effective in the elderly. This was taken into account before the recommendations for routine flu vaccination for the over-65s.'
The flu jab's co-inventor, biochemist Graeme Laver, told the Daily Mail in 2007 that the jab did not guarantee protection.
Dr Laver, who died in 2008, said: 'I have never been very impressed with its efficacy.
'It is better than nothing and I wouldn't want to advise people not to take it, but you can't rely on it doing any good.'