JAN 03, 2018 8:29 AM PST

Should Nursing Homes Require Flu Shots for Staff and Patients?

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Every year around this time, warnings of flu season reach their peak. Experts estimate that around 200,000 people every year are hospitalized due to flu infection, yet there is a way, thanks to modern medicine, to reduce the risk of flu. Along with simple habits like frequent hand washing and staying away from sick people, the annual flu vaccine can help prevent the spread of flu. Yet, many nursing homes and similar assisted living facilities have a relatively low rate of vaccination for their residents and staff.

In a new survey from the National Poll on Healthy Aging, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, just over two thousand Americans aged between 50 and 80 - a nationally representative sample - were asked about flu vaccination expectations for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

According to the poll’s results, almost 75 percent of individuals believe that nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should require their staff to get a flu vaccine. About 60 percent say that all patients should get a flu vaccine, and 70 percent would be less likely to choose a care facility for themselves or for others if one-third or a greater percentage of the facility’s staff did not receive flu shots.

The poll is partially a result of a serious problem that is emerging: nursing homes and other long-term care facilities (68 percent of staff vaccinated) do not meet the same standard of vaccination against the flu as hospitals and other healthcare settings (92 percent of staff vaccinated).

Why is it particularly important for older people to get a flu vaccine? This portion of the population is more susceptible than the younger portion of the population, as the immune system naturally grows weaker with age. Additionally, older people have an increased likelihood of pneumonia and other dangerous complications once infected with flu.

Credit: University of Michigan

Widespread vaccination for the flu (and other infections) also promotes herd immunity, a phenomenon that is important for people with weakened immune systems or immune disorders that prevent them from being healthy enough to receive a flu vaccine. Herd immunity makes it harder for a virus to be transmitted among a population, given a majority of the population is vaccinated against the virus, protecting those who cannot be vaccinated.

Director of the new poll, Preeti Malani, MD, from the University of Michigan Medical School, strongly encourages individuals to ask nursing homes 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," explained Alison Bryant, PhD from AARP, which funded the survey. "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."

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Michigan Medicine - University of Michigan, Harvard Health Publishing

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 07, 2019
Immunology
SEP 07, 2019
A New Way To Fight Severe Peanut Allergies
Dr. Sandra Lin explains how SLIT is currently being used to treat allergies other than peanuts.    Over 1 million U.S. children have an allergy t...
SEP 24, 2019
Immunology
SEP 24, 2019
Flu Shot Less Effective Due to Overuse of Antibioitics
New research out of the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that the consequence of overuse of antibiotics lowers the effectiveness of the seasona...
SEP 29, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
SEP 29, 2019
Researchers Can Now Reverse Skin Cancer
Ten years ago, just 5% of people with advanced melanoma (skin cancer) lived more than five years after being diagnosed. Now however, researchers from the I...
OCT 29, 2019
Microbiology
OCT 29, 2019
Antibody Discovered That May be the Key to a Universal Flu Vaccine
Instead of designing a new flu vaccine every year, researchers have made a breakthrough that may lead to a single vaccine that protects against all strains....
NOV 29, 2019
Immunology
NOV 29, 2019
Protecting Killer Immune Cells from Themselves
Destroying human cells compromised by viruses and cancer is the name of the game for so-called “killer” cells of the immune system. They employ...
FEB 10, 2020
Immunology
FEB 10, 2020
How Cancer Evades the Immune System Time and Time Again
Scientists discovered a new mechanism by which cancer cells evade the immune system to further their own agenda: invade, multiply, and spread. Identifying...
Loading Comments...