Influenza Vaccination as a Novel Means of Preventing Coronary Heart Disease: Effectiveness in Older Adults

Atherosclerosis can have various etiologies, including several newly recognized immunoinflammatory mechanisms. A growing body of evidence suggests that influenza infection is chronologically linked to acute myocardial infarction (AMI), and thus that the virus is a novel cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factor. Morbidity and mortality rates for both influenza infection and AMI rise markedly with age. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that influenza vaccination (IV) has a cardioprotective effect, especially in people aged 65 and over; hence, IV may be of value in the management of CVD. These observations justify efforts to better understand the underlying mechanisms and to identify therapeutic targets in older adults. In view of the above, the objective of the present study was to review the literature data on the cellular mechanisms that link IV to the prevention of atherosclerotic complications.

Given the greater burden of CVD in older subjects, we also questioned the impact of aging on this association. The most widely recognized benefit of IV is the prevention of influenza infection and the latter’s cardiovascular complications. In a new hypothesis, however, an influenza-independent effect is driven by vaccine immunity and modulation of the ongoing immunoinflammatory response in individuals with CVD. Although influenza infection and IV both induce a proinflammatory response, they have opposite effects on the progression of atherosclerosis – suggesting a hormetic phenomenon. Aging is characterized by chronic inflammation (sometimes referred to as “inflammaging”) that progresses insidiously during the course of aging-related diseases, including CVD. It remains to be determined whether vaccination has an effect on aging-related diseases other than CVD. Although the studies of this topic had various limitations, the results highlight the potential benefits of vaccination in protecting the health of older adults, and should drive research on the molecular immunology of the response to IV and its correlation with atheroprotective processes.