Flu and pneumonia vaccines lead to fewer hospital deaths among heart failure patients, a new study finds.

“Our study provides further impetus for annual immunizations in patients with heart failure. Despite advice to do so, uptake remains low,” said study author Dr. Karthik Gonuguntla, of the University of Connecticut.

In heart failure, your heart can’t pump blood as well as it should. This leads to fluid buildup in the lungs that causes shortness of breath, coughing and reduced quality of life.

Respiratory infections like pneumonia and the flu make heart failure worse, so annual vaccinations are recommended for patients. However, few studies have compared outcomes among heart failure patients who have and haven’t received these vaccinations.

In this study, the researchers looked at nearly 3 million heart failure patients, average age 70, in the United States who were hospitalized between 2010 and 2014. Only 1.4% of the patients had received the flu vaccine and just 1.4% had received the pneumonia vaccine.

Rates of in-hospital death were much lower among patients who received the flu and pneumonia vaccines (just over 1% for each) than among those who didn’t receive either vaccine (almost 4%), the researchers found.

The study findings were released Friday and scheduled for presentation at the European Society of Cardiology virtual annual meeting.

“Pneumonia and flu vaccines are vital to preventing these respiratory infections and protecting patients with heart failure. Although many people have rejected common and safe vaccines before COVID-19, I am optimistic that the pandemic has changed perceptions about the role of immunizations in safeguarding our health,” Gonuguntla said in a society news release.

Serious reactions to flu and pneumonia vaccinations are rare, occur within a few hours and can be treated, he said.

Studies presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until peer-reviewed for publication in a medical journal.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on heart failure.