Every year, we hear a drumbeat of reminders about the importance of getting a flu shot. But who are some of the worst offenders? If you said nursing homes and assisted living facilities, you’d be right and a new study finds that healthcare consumers want action to change that.
Nearly three-quarters of people over age 50 surveyed say that all staff in healthcare facilities should be required to get the flu vaccine — and more than 60 percent said patients should be too.
In fact, poll respondents felt so strongly about flu vaccination that 70 percent said that if they found out that one-third of a nursing home’s staff wasn’t vaccinated, they would be less likely to choose it for themselves or loved ones.
The new results, from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, come at a time when nursing homes and assisted living facilities lag behind hospitals and other healthcare settings in the rate of flu vaccination among staff.
The poll was conducted in a nationally representative sample of 2,007 Americans between the ages of 50 and 80 by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. It was sponsored by AARP and Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center.
Older people, and those with chronic health conditions of any age, are especially vulnerable to the influenza virus, and at an increased risk of developing flu-related complications such as pneumonia. Widespread vaccination helps create “herd immunity” that makes it harder for the virus to spread between people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of six months should be vaccinated against the flu every year, with few exceptions. But the CDC has reported that only 68 percent of workers in long-term care settings such as nursing homes get vaccinated against the flu, compared with more than 92 percent of hospital workers.
“We’ve finally gotten to the point in the last few years where most inpatient hospitals require their staff to get vaccinated against the flu, or at least strongly promote it,” says Preeti Malani, M.D., the director of the poll and a professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School who specializes in infectious diseases and geriatrics.
“These results suggest that other types of care facilities should do the same to protect vulnerable patients – or potentially risk losing business,” she adds. “I encourage everyone to ask nursing homes and other long-term care facilities about their vaccination policies.”
“Flu and pneumonia are a critical health concern, and in recent years have resulted in over 50,000 deaths annually, making it the 8th leading cause of death just behind diabetes,” says Alison Bryant, Ph.D., senior vice president of research for AARP. “Over 80 percent of these deaths were among older adults ages 65 and older. Increasing vaccination rates to increase herd immunity is imperative to the health and lives of our most vulnerable.”