Second UTHealth Study Suggests Flu Vaccine Offers Protection Against Alzheimer’s

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Research from the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth Houston) has linked flu vaccination with a significantly reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The findings will be published in an August edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

This study is the second in a series conducted at the well-reputed research center, focusing on this possible link. The goal of this follow-up was to expand the data pool, and in this it succeeded, analyzing the data of 935,887 patients in each group, non-vaccinated and vaccinated. Follow-ups were conducted over the course of four years for all participating patients. Collectively, the data set found that 5.1% of vaccinated patients went on to develop AD, while 8.5% of unvaccinated patients developed the disease. This lends credence to the theory that vaccination may protect a patient from neurodegeneration and dementia.

Study leader Avram S. Bukhbinder, M.D., a recent graduate of UTHealth Houston’s McGovern Medical School, elaborated on the findings.

“We found that flu vaccination in older adults reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease for several years. The strength of this protective effect increased with the number of years that a person received an annual flu vaccine –  in other words, the rate of developing Alzheimer’s was lowest among those who consistently received the flu vaccine every year,” he said. “Future research should assess whether flu vaccination is also associated with the rate of symptom progression in patients who already have Alzheimer’s dementia.”

Further research must also be done to determine whether this protective mechanism is unique to flu vaccination or if a lower risk of dementia development comes from less exposure to damaging diseases. To put it simply, the more the brain endures, the more susceptible it may be to dementia.

Speaking to the original UTHealth study, Alzheimer’s Association CSO Maria C. Carrillo speculated on how critical general healthcare is for neuroprotection.

“It may turn out to be as simple as if you’re taking care of your health in this way – getting vaccinated – you’re also taking care of yourself in other ways, and these things add up to lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias,” she said. “This research, while early, calls for further studies in large, diverse clinical trials to inform whether vaccinations as a public health strategy decrease our risk for developing dementia as we age.”

Another 2020 study came out of Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute. Focusing on the link between the development of AD and pneumonia vaccination, genetic information for 5,146 patients over the age of 65 was analyzed. Specifically, the patients were checked to see if they were carriers of the rs2075650 G allele in the TOMM40 gene. Carrying this allele is a known risk factor for AD development. The analysis found that patients that are non-carriers of this allele have a 40% lower risk of AD development after receiving a pneumonia vaccine.

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