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Here's another reason to emphasize influenza vaccination in long-term care: Last year, vaccination prevented an estimated 44,000 flu-related hospitalizations among older people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC regularly stresses that "the best way you can protect yourself against the flu is to get a flu vaccine," as director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press conference. But now the public health agency has some numbers to illustrate that.
The 2012-2013 season was a relatively severe flu season, with about 381,000 flu-related hospitalizations, Frieden said. Based on that, and data on flu vaccine coverage and effectiveness, researchers estimated that a total of 6.6 million cases and 79,000 hospitalizations were averted.
Flu-related hospitalizations occur most frequently among the elderly and children four and younger. "Much of the illness and hospitalizations that we prevented was in the most vulnerable people, the youngest and the oldest," says Ann Schuchat, MD, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
CDC has no data on the impact of increasing vaccination rates among hospital employees, Schuchat said. "The best data about the impact of health care worker vaccination is older data that suggests a real benefit for patients in long term care facilities when high proportions of the health care workers there are vaccinated," she said. "Sadly, that is the population of health care workers where we've really been lagging behind."
Influenza activity typically peaks between January and March, so by the end of 2013, there were only early reports of outbreaks.
"Seasonal influenza activity is now beginning to increase in parts of the U.S. and we know that it will increase in the coming weeks and months, but we cannot predict where and when and how severe this year's flu season will be," Frieden said.
Influenza vaccination seemed to be on track to mirror the coverage from the prior season among health care workers, according to a CDC survey.
"By mid-November, we were pretty much where we were the year before," said Schuchat, adding that "63% of health care providers had gotten flu vaccine by that point this year, just about the same as last year."
Coverage was higher in hospitals, with a vaccination rate of 79%. The rate was 60.5% in ambulatory care and just 52.6% in long-term care, CDC reported.
About half of hospital workers in the Internet-based survey reported that their employer required the flu vaccine. Not surprisingly, those with an employer requirement had the highest vaccination rate — of 90%. Only 10% of health care workers in long-term care reported that their employers have a flu vaccine requirement.
Pharmacists were the most likely to get the vaccine, with a rate of 90%. Physicians and nurses also had high rates, of 84% and 79%. Aides or assistants were the least likely to be vaccinated, with a rate of 49%.
The survey also revealed some attitudes about influenza vaccination:
Schuchat emphasized that the vaccination numbers were just a "halftime" report, and that CDC encourages vaccination throughout the flu season. "It's really where we are at the end of the season that matters," she said.