The 2017-2018 flu season has been worse than expected, with unchecked pockets of illness and Tamiflu in short supply in some regions of the country. The vaccine was reported to be 10% effective, which, while better than nothing, is much lower than the average 42% effectiveness of past flu vaccines.
A new poll suggests that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should be doing more to get their staff and patients vaccinated against the flu, particularly if they want to attract new residents.
Nearly three-quarters of people older than 50 surveyed said that all staff in such facilities should be required to get the flu vaccine. More than 60% also said that all patients in nursing homes and assisted living should get vaccinated too.
In fact, poll respondents felt so strongly about flu vaccination that 70% 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 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.
Lack of Vaccination
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that only 68% of workers in long-term care settings get vaccinated against the flu, compared with more than 92% of hospital workers.
“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,” said Alison Bryant, PhD, senior vice president of research for AARP. “Over 80% 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.”
Influence on Facility Choice
The new poll asked respondents to react to a hypothetical scenario in which a nursing home had a vaccination rate about the current national average.
Forty percent of poll respondents said if they found out that 1 in 3 staff at a particular nursing home weren’t vaccinated against the flu, it would make them much less likely to choose that facility. Another 30% said this knowledge would make them slightly less likely to choose it.
Such data about staff vaccination is publicly available for some types of facilities. In inpatient rehabilitation facilities, 91% of patients and 84% of staff have had theirs, according to the federal site that tracks them. The site for long-term care hospitals shows that 77% of staff have been vaccinated.
Employment and Visitation
The vast majority of respondents also thought that nursing homes should offer the vaccine to staff at work, at no charge, and should require unvaccinated staff to stay home if they get sick. But 55% thought that the flu vaccine should be mandatory for staff to keep their jobs. In contrast, many hospitals require staff vaccination but allow some staff to opt out and instead wear masks around patients during flu season.
When it came to nursing home visitors, respondents were less strong in their opinions. Only 25% said visitors should be required to be vaccinated before visiting their loved ones. Another 45% said they possibly should be required to get the vaccine, and 30% believed visitors should not be required to get the vaccine.