Your flu to-do list

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

Just ahead of National Influenza Vaccination Week, which began yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics released information about the percentages of adults who had been vaccinated against the flu.

As of the second quarter of this year, 69.8% of adults aged at least 65 years had received a flu shot within the past 12 months, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey. For those aged 50 to 64 years, it was 46.4%, and for those aged 18 to 49, the percentage was 32.7%.

Those statistics indicate that, when it comes to vaccination against this contagious virus, room for improvement still exists for senior living residents and staff members.

The good news, CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., said earlier this year at a press conference, is that flu vaccination is up among those working in long-term care settings. The bad news is that the inoculation rate among LTC workers remains lower than it is among workers in other healthcare settings. And as the aforementioned statistics tell us, more than 30% of seniors are not getting vaccinated.

It's not too late to get a flu shot!

That's why the CDC and its partners choose December for National Influenza Vaccination Week — to remind people that although the holiday season has begun, it's not too late to get a flu vaccine. In fact, because cases of the flu typically peak between December and February and activity can last as late as May, vaccination is still a worthy endeavor even in January or later.

Vaccination is especially important in senior living settings, because people aged 65 or more years, or those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, are among those at high risk of serious flu complications that can lead to hospitalization or even death. It's important for residents and staff members to protect themselves as well as prevent the spread of illness to others.

For the 2016 – 2017 influenza season, the CDC is recommending injectable flu vaccines but not nasal spray flu vaccines. In addition to existing vaccines, two new injectable vaccines are available this year. One, called Fluad, contains an adjuvant, an ingredient designed to help create a stronger immune response in the body; it is approved for people aged 65 or more years. The other new vaccine, Flucelvax, is approved for anyone aged 4 or more years.

For National Influenza Vaccination Week, the agency has made resources available on its website that senior living communities and others can use to encourage vaccination. There, you'll find downloadable posters and handouts, widgets for websites (including one that lets people plug in a zip code to see where flu shots are offered near them) and more. These materials supplement the CDC's toolkit for LTC employers and resources for employers and businesses in general.

If your community already has taken steps to help residents and employees get vaccinated, include the #FightFlu hashtag if you share your efforts on social media.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Contact her at lois.bowers@mcknights.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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