Last week I was at a nursing home that offers long- and short-term care. On Friday publicly posted signs indicated that residents received influenza vaccinations that day. By law patients' personal health information is protected by HIPPA, so of course any information that would identify them is omitted here. I do not know which residents did or did not receive flu shots, or whether they received vaccines from multi-dose bottles containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal.
In a normal month, resident/patient deaths are few and spread out. However since Friday, three long-term residents passed away in three days, and a fourth died two days later.
This could all be coincidence; in fact, one patient’s age was quite advanced. However one staff person commented that the person’s end was not expected so quickly. Another staff person, a nurse, commented about the deaths, “It’s that time of year.”
My question: Have any studies been done to determine whether nursing home deaths increase disproportionately shortly after immunizations?
Such an increase in deaths following influenza shots delivered en masse within a short time period would be calculable. Exacerbation of current medical symptoms or emergence of new disorders would be more difficult to establish.
This week I emailed the above question to a doctor, who responded thus:
“This cluster would probably make the news if there had been an exposure to something the EPA wants to regulate.
"Such clusters of course do not prove anything, but certainly should arouse questions. Why this time of year? It's not freezing cold, and it is not flu season.
“If you knew the expected mortality rate on a day in October, you could calculate the probability of three seemingly unrelated deaths occurring on three successive days by chance alone. Then one would need to test the hypothesis that death clusters were more likely after than before flu shots in other data sets.”
Though death is inevitable for us all, I would hate to think that clusters such as this in aging populations are common or viewed with the same tolerance as pneumonia – once darkly referred to in the medical community as “the friend of the elderly.”