The flu vaccine represents the single best strategy for preventing the flu, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many healthcare workers are vaccinated every year to help reduce their risk of contracting the flu and spreading it to their patients and families. Long-term care patients in particular may be prone to serious complications from the flu, so it is important for them and their caregivers to be vaccinated. There is unsettling news from CDC, however, that staff in long-term care facilities lag behind their colleagues in other healthcare environments in getting their flu vaccinations. This leaves the already high-risk population in long-term care facilities potentially more susceptible to seasonal flu.
The new CDC study finds flu vaccination rates among long-term care physicians and nurses and other healthcare personnel in the 2011-2012 flu season was only 50.2 percent compared to the overall rate among healthcare workers of 66.9 percent. Among healthcare workers, the highest vaccination rates were reported among hospital doctors (86.7 percent) and nurses (78.1 percent). But whereas flu vaccination rates rose among most monitored healthcare worker groups between the last two flu seasons, rates fell among long-term care facility workers. CDC reports that when healthcare workers were asked why they did not obtain a flu shot, the most common responses were:
About the Flu Vaccine, aka the “Flu Shot”
The flu vaccine, popularly called the “flu shot,” consists of a biological agent that stimulates the human body’s immune system to recognize and destroy influenza viruses. Vaccines may be administered through an injection or using a nasal spray.
Each spring a group of scientists meet to take their best guess at which flu strains are likely to be circulating in the upcoming winter. They choose three and the vaccine is developed to destroy those viruses. Sometimes the scientists guess correctly and sometimes they do not. Because circulating flu strains vary over time, people need to be vaccinated each year to maximize their level of protection from flu.
- A belief that they did not need it (28.1 percent)
- Concern about vaccination effectiveness (26.4 percent)
- Concern about side effects (25.1 percent)
Needed: An Intervention Strategy
To help improve flu vaccination coverage, CDC recommends medical care facilities develop a comprehensive intervention strategy. Educational outreach, an important part of that strategy, should emphasize the effectiveness and safety of flu vaccines as well as how the flu is transmitted and the benefits of the vaccine to staff, patients and family.
Last month the Duke University Health Systems held a 24-hour flu vaccination “blitz” (news report). Duke and ten other health centers in the Triangle area of North Carolina set up free flu vaccination stations for staff in well-traveled areas such as the front entrances of hospitals, entrances to cafeterias, and near elevators and conference rooms; staffers vaccinated each other on wards. The goal of the blitz was to vaccinate 10,000 healthcare workers to both reduce flu incidence and conduct a drill for a potential pandemic flu situation.
The Duke blitz can serve as a model for long-term care facilities. It could go a long way toward raising flu vaccination rates among caregivers in constant contact with our elderly and infirm.
Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, FSHEA is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.