Published in the online edition of Clinical Infectious Disease, a report on the study points out that, starting in 2000, the Canadian province of Ontario introduced a universal immunization program offering free influenza vaccines to anyone 6 months of age or older.
It further states that 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.
They observed that the broader immunization effort in Ontario was associated with a 64 percent decline in antibiotic prescriptions, compared with the other provinces that maintained targeted vaccination programs.
They also found influenza-associated mortality to fell by 39 percent.
Flu-related hospitalizations, emergency department use, and doctors' office visits also fell an average of 52 percent, write the authors.
According to background information in the study report, 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, the report points out.
Fawziah Marra, a study author who is associated with the University of British Columbia, says that these findings suggest that "jurisdictions wishing to decrease antibiotic use might consider programs to increase influenza vaccination."