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Benefits of flu vaccinations for home care providers

Influenza (flu) can pose a serious health risk to older adults and those living with chronic medical conditions or suppressed immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those over 65 account for an estimated 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and 50-60% of flu-related hospitalizations. [http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/professionals/geriatric-letter-2014.pdf] One way to reduce the incidence of potentially deadly flu complications among the frail and elderly is to ensure that caregivers are properly vaccinated.*

The benefits of an annual flu shot for home healthcare aides are numerous, including potentially lower absenteeism and reduced risk to clients, co-workers and family members. Unvaccinated employees may be exposed through contact with sick clients and unknowingly spread the disease to others, since those infected with the flu can be contagious one day before they feel ill and five to seven days after symptoms have faded. As it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop post-inoculation, personnel should be vaccinated early in the flu season.

Despite the advantages of vaccination, a significant proportion of personal care aides fail to get a flu shot. Another recent CDC study [http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6436a1.htm] reveals an influenza vaccination rate among all healthcare providers of 77%. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, [http://www.nfid.org/pdfs/bestpracticestoolkitdocument.pdf], surveyed healthcare personnel most commonly cite the following reasons for not getting immunized:

  • Concerns about the vaccine’s safety or efficacy.
  • Perception of having a healthy immune system and therefore not being at risk.
  • Lack of understanding of how flu is transmitted.
  • Fear of needles.
  • Inconvenience and cost of vaccination.

While the CDC does not mandate flu shots or other vaccinations for healthcare workers, the agency does recommend certain immunizations for adults, based on age, occupation and other circumstances. State laws vary; for specific information, see the following CDC resource sites:

  • Public Health Resources: State Health Departments. [http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html).
  • State Immunization Laws for Healthcare Workers and Patients. [http://www2a.cdc.gov/vaccines/statevaccsApp/default.asp]
  • Vaccines and Immunizations: Basics and Common Questions. [http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/default.htm]

The following measures can help increase flu vaccination rates for staff:

  • Educate staff members as winter approaches about the importance of getting vaccinated and the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
  • Consider covering costs associated with vaccination.
  • Schedule on-site vaccination clinics at convenient times, if practical.
  • Ask staff members when they intend to be vaccinated and follow up to ensure that appointments have been kept.
  • Request signed declination forms from employees who choose not to be vaccinated, and document reasons for refusal, including allergies.
  • Set a leadership example by getting a flu shot at the appropriate time.
  • Consider awarding prizes or other incentives to employees who consistently get a timely vaccination.

Personal care staff also should encourage their clients to be properly vaccinated, using some of the same techniques to strengthen compliance.

Antiviral drugs are available, which can help reduce the length and severity of the flu if taken before the infection fully develops. Staff or clients who have been exposed to the flu or those who become symptomatic should seek treatment immediately to determine if antiviral medications are appropriate.

Annual flu shots represent the primary means of reducing the prevalence of influenza and associated complications. For home healthcare aides, inoculation is especially important, serving to protect not only themselves, their families and co-workers, but also the vulnerable clients in their charge.

Flu Facts
  • According to the CDC, the flu season over the last 13 years has lasted from one to 19 weeks, with an average duration of about 13 weeks. [http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/professionals/geriatric-letter-2014.pdf]
  • In 2014-2015, the flu season started earlier than usual, resulting in the risk of a second wave of illness caused by a different strain of virus.
  • The rate of hospitalization for those 65 and older was at its highest since tracking began.
  • Of the 92,000 reported hospitalizations in 2014-2015, nearly 60% involved those age 65 and older.

∗Annual vaccination of all healthcare providers is recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) http://www.cdc.gov/flu/healthcareworkers.htm. Additionally, 14 medical and health professional organizations – including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Hospital Association, American Public Health Association, and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology – have published position statements encouraging influenza vaccination for all healthcare personnel. A summary of these statements can be found here. [http://www.immunize.org/honor-roll/influenza-mandates/]

 

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