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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Long term care flu immunization programs (or the tragic lack thereof)

Flu immunization of health care workers in long term care settings is as much an exception as the rule, with roughly half of those caring for elderly residents unvaccinated against seasonal virus, according to a web-based survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How important is it? Well, it could be a matter of life and death. A 2009 randomized trial looking at flu immunization in long term care concluded that “a strong correlation was observed between staff vaccination coverage and all-cause mortality in residents.”

The portion of the CDC survey dealing with long term care facilities (LTCFs) drew responses primarily from nurses’ aides – daily caregivers of elderly residents.

“Among LTCFs, influenza vaccination coverage was lower in 2011–12 (52.4%), compared with 2010–11 (64.4%),” the CDC reported. “These results indicate that targeted intervention and promotion programs developed for HCP groups other than physicians and nurses, and especially for those who work in LTCFs, might be important components in improving overall HCP vaccination coverage. Raising vaccination coverage of HCP working in LTCFs is especially important given that LTCF residents are at increased risk for serious influenza complications and that HCP vaccination might reduce the risk for death among LTCF residents.”

The CDC urged LTCFs to adopt flu immunization programs that emphasize vaccine effectiveness, its safety, knowledge of influenza transmission, and the benefits of vaccination for staff, patients, and family.

About 84% of health care workers in non-hospital settings reported that their employers did not promote vaccination, such as through incentives, special events or invitations.