Starting in 2000, the Canadian province of Ontario introduced a universal immunisation program offering free influenza vaccines to anyone 6 months of age or older. Other provinces continued to target only high-risk groups and their contacts for vaccination. The authors compared prescription rates for influenza-associated respiratory antibiotics before and after the Ontario program began, and compared the Ontario prescription rates with those of other provinces.
The broader immunisation effort in Ontario was associated with a 64 percent decline in these antibiotic prescriptions compared with the other provinces that maintained targeted vaccination programs. Additionally, influenza-associated mortality fell 39 percent. Flu-related hospitalisations, emergency department use, and doctors' office visits also fell an average of 52 percent.
Influenza and upper respiratory conditions account for a substantial number of antibiotic prescriptions, even though antibiotics don't work against viruses such as the flu. The overuse of antibiotics and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue to be serious public health problems. According to study author Fawziah Marra, PharmD, of the University of British Columbia, the study's findings suggest that "jurisdictions wishing to decrease antibiotic use might consider programs to increase influenza vaccination."