The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is embarking on a vigorous campaign this flu season, specifically focusing on increasing the number of flu vaccinations for staff at long-term care communities who traditionally show a low vaccination rate compared to other health care professionals.
By occupation setting among health care professionals, vaccine coverage was highest among those working in hospitals at 89.6 percent and lowest among health care pros at long-term communities, with 63 percent, during the 2013-14 influenza season. By occupation type, coverage was 92.2 percent among physicians, 85.7 percent among pharmacists, 89.6 percent among nurse practitioners/physician assistants and 90.5 percent among nurses.
Health Care Pros Recommend All Staff Get Flu Vaccines
Integral Senior Living Vice President of Resident Care Linda Mather says it’s important for everybody – not just nurses - working in an assisted living community to consider getting the flu vaccine. “Looking at it from an assisted living perspective, our nurses probably have the least contact with our residents,” says Mather, who is also a registered nurse. “It’s our direct care staff in dining or the housekeepers, the staff doing the laundry – those are the people who are literally in contact with our residents several times a day and who should consider the flu vaccine.”
She noted that nurses do interact with residents but often in an assessment and service planning role, doing paperwork and visiting with residents but not as frequently as some other staff.
CDC data for the 2013-14 flu season show that vaccination coverage was lowest among administrative staff, food service workers and janitors and housekeeping among all occupations. Flu activity is low across the United States now, but usually begins to increase in October and commonly peaks between January and March. “We want to keep staff healthy. We want to keep the residents healthy. Many of them are frail and far more susceptible to a negative outcome” should they get the flu, Mather said.
Resident safety is first and foremost, but other problems can arise if there’s an outbreak. For example, some senior living managers consider shutting down a community to new residents or staff can be asked to work overtime to manage an outbreak.
On-Site Flu Clinics Improve Vaccination Rate
Integral offers flu clinics to encourage staff to receive a vaccine, and Mather said in Texas it’s mandated that all assisted living staff and community contractors receive a flu vaccine. The CDC found that flu vaccination rates were higher for health care professionals where their employer offered the vaccination onsite at no-cost for one (75.7 percent) or multiple (86.2 percent) days compared to settings not offering onsite, no cost vaccines (55.3 percent). Mather said some communities do pay for employees to get the vaccine. “Twenty dollars or so is a significant amount for many staff so it’s nice for communities to pick up that fee to encourage vaccination,” she said.
CDC Doctor Offers Tips for Flu Vaccine Adoption
Raymond Strikas, a doctor who works at the CDC’s Immunization Services Division in Atlanta, told ALFA Update it’s important for health care professionals to “form a circle of protection” around residents, especially considering 90 percent of all flu deaths in any given year occur in the 65 and older population. He recommends that communities elect a flu vaccine champion who can answer questions by other staff and residents there. He noted that may long-term care professionals come from different backgrounds and countries and may have cultural or other concerns about vaccinations that could be addressed by the “champion” and flu vaccine educational materials.
Strikas added that CDC has seen much higher vaccination success rates when a community offers no or low cost vaccines on site at least twice a flu season. “It’s also important to educate the family and friends. This disease does not start in a community people live in, but often can be brought by workers and visitors. …Vaccinating as many of the people who go in and out is also important,” he said.
The CDC offers a variety of printable materials to educate communities about the flu. Additionally, a downloadable toolkit specifically for long-term care communities will be available from the CDC website in December as part of National Influenza Vaccination Week, Dec. 7-13. To find locations offering flu vaccines near you, enter your ZIP code on the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.
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