Fifteen meta-analyses have been published between 1995 and 2011 to evaluate the efficacy/effectiveness and harms of diverse influenza vaccines – seasonal, H5N1 and 2009(H1N1) – in various age-classes (healthy children, adults or elderly). These meta-analyses have often adopted different analyses and study selection criteria. Because it is difficult to have a clear picture of vaccine benefits and harms examining single systematic reviews, we compiled the main findings and evaluated which could be the most reasonable explanations for some differences in findings (or their interpretation) across previously published meta-analyses. For each age group, we performed analyses that included all trials that had been included in at least one relevant meta-analysis, also exploring whether effect sizes changed over time. Although we identified several discrepancies among the meta-analyses on seasonal vaccines for children and elderly, overall most seasonal influenza vaccines showed statistically significant efficacy/effectiveness, which was acceptable or high for laboratory-confirmed cases and of modest magnitude for clinically-confirmed cases. The available evidence on parenteral inactivated vaccines for children aged <2 years remains scarce. Pre-pandemic “avian” H5N1 and pandemic 2009 (H1N1) vaccines can achieve satisfactory immunogenicity, but no meta-analysis has addressed H1N1 vaccination impact on clinical outcomes. Data on harms are overall reassuring, but their value is diminished by inconsistent reporting.
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