The Marin Independent Journal reported in a recent article that Marin county health officials are administering free flu shots to nursing home employees. The article indicates that this action is in response to the results of a recent health survey indicating that vaccination rates for the residents of nursing facilities is high, but the employee vaccination rates are quite low.
This report should probably evoke a head scratch or two because of the simplicity of the study and solution. It makes no sense why the employees are not getting flu shots. Nursing home employees handle the residents’ food, medication, linens, utensils, garments, etc. The employees are in constant contact with the residents and their possessions; therefore, germs are almost certain to spread. It is surprising that it took a study to conclude that vaccinations need to be freely given to, if not required of, nursing home employees.
Public Health Officer, Dr. Matt Willis, stated that, “The elderly are our most vulnerable population when it comes to complications from influenza.” Elderly people often have weakened immune systems, so a case of the flu is potentially deadly.
Officials believe it is important to emphasize vaccinations now, as they believe that they are at the threshold of flu season in California. There have been four deaths from influenza in the state of California, but California has not yet designated flu activity as widespread. Only two other states have yet to do so. The four individuals who died from influenza were all over the age of 65.
The Department of Health reports that the flu kills an average of 24,000 people each flu season. 90 percent of those who die are over the age of 65. This statistic only serves to highlight the need for vaccinations of both nursing home residents and employees.
Marin residents thus far have tested positive for a strain of the flu labeled influenza A H3N2. Doctors say this is a mixed message. This strain is especially virulent, but for some reason the vaccines are very effective in preventing this strain. What many people do not realize is vaccines not only help prevent infection of the flu, but vaccines can shorten the length of time the illness affects those who are sick. This means that an elderly individual’s immune system will hopefully face a shorter fight if he or she is infected.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that U.S. hospital employees have an average vaccination rate of 75 percent versus nursing home employees average vaccination rate of 55 percent.
These statistics point to the fact that nursing homes should place a high priority on making sure employees are getting vaccinated and doing all they can to avoid spreading influenza to the nursing home residents. This might not be the type of nursing home abuse or neglect that most people think of, but its effects can be just as deadly. Nursing home residents and their loved ones need to ensure that the facilities are taking every step possible to prevent flu outbreaks inside the facilities. It would be especially tragic to suffer or die from such a preventable illness.
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