We are beginning that dreaded time of the year, influenza season is upon us! As we care for our residents we should be also take care of ourselves! Unfortunately, per the CDC that doesn’t appear to be the case for long-term care health professionals! In a recent media release, the CDC identified that we are not receiving the influenza vaccine as recommended and ultimately may be putting ourselves and our residents at risk!
Statistically, there is a higher mortality rate for those living in post-acute/senior/congregate housing communities. The risk of contracting influenza/flu is higher than it is for the average person due to co-morbidities, immobility and overall declining health. So what do we do to make a difference? We immunize ourselves and our residents, encourage healthy lifestyles, limit visitation when a guest presents with flu like symptoms and use anti-viral medications when appropriate.
Let’s look at the numbers! Per the CDC, hospital healthcare workers are more likely to be immunized than long-term care workers.
• 79 percent of survey respondents reported receiving vaccination, which is similar coverage during the past three flu seasons.
• Vaccination coverage continued to be higher among HCP working in hospitals (92 percent) and lower among HCP working in ambulatory (76 percent) and long-term care settings (68 percent).
• As in previous seasons, coverage was highest among HCP who were required by their employer to be vaccinated (97 percent) and lowest among HCP working in settings where vaccination was not required, promoted, or
offered onsite (46 percent).
Interesting that “mandatory” requirements to be immunized resulted in the highest number of employees receiving the vaccine. The national news recently ran a story about a hospital requiring nurses to either be immunized or wear a surgical mask. Several of the employees felt this was against their rights to be forced to accept the vaccine. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, not here to be judge and jury however statistically, influenza claims the lives of many seniors every year.
While influenza seasons can vary in severity, typically people 65 years and older experience the greatest burden of severe influenza disease. This was also true for the 2015-2016 season. While people in this age group accounted for only 15% of the U.S. population, they made up 50% of influenza-associated hospitalizations and 64% of pneumonia and influenza deaths during the 2015-2016 season. Influenza vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza virus infection, and among adults 65 years and older CDC estimates that vaccination prevented 23% of influenza-related hospitalizations during the 2015-2016 season. Vaccine coverage dropped by about 3 percentage points in this age group (to about 63%) between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 influenza seasons. Such drops in influenza vaccination coverage are costly for older adults, who are at high-risk of serious influenza-related complications. If, instead of declining, vaccine coverage had increased by just 5 percentage points in this age group, an additional 36,000 illnesses and more than 3,000 additional hospitalizations could have been prevented during the 2015-2016 season.
Should long-term care communities do the same? Should we mandate that all employees be immunized or wear a mask? You decide, to immunize or not, but do the right things for the right reasons and you can’t go wrong. If you would like additional information regarding influenza and current standards/recommendations please see the CDC updates at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/index.htm
As always, HealthCap RMS is here if you have questions or need additional guidance! Thank you for caring for our residents and stay healthy!