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 LTPAC Workers Have Lowest Flu Vaccination Rates Among All Health Care Workers

Long term and post-acute care (LTPAC) workers report the lowest influenza vaccination rates compared with all health care workers, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu season typically peaks in January or February but can start as early as October. Each year up to a quarter of the U.S. population get the flu, according to Flu.gov, a government website devoted to promoting vaccinations against this illness. Flu is the fifth-leading cause of death among adults over the age of 65, according to CDC.
During last year’s flu season, CDC reported that only 63.9 percent of LTPAC workers were vaccinated—the lowest percentage among health care settings. Hospital workers were the highest, at 90 percent. 
Vaccination is especially essential in the LTPAC sector because influenza vaccine effectiveness is usually lowest in the elderly and this population group is more likely to experience complications from the flu (bacterial pneumonia, ear/sinus infections, dehydration). Immunization rates for seniors have been around 65 percent for more than 15 years, CDC says. The federal government hopes to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2020.
“Low rates in these settings are of great concern since it puts some of the nation’s most vulnerable patients at greater risk of getting the flu,” said the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases in a Sept. 17 press release. “Health care personnel in long term care settings also were least likely to report that their employer required vaccination or made it available onsite.”
Hospitals receive a 2 percent Medicare payment increase for reporting to CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services their health care worker immunization rates. The LTPAC sector does not have such a system in place.
Creating annual flu shots involves science but also a lot of luck. Scientists, public officials, and big pharmaceutical companies place their bets before the start of the season on a best formulation by looking at where the strains are clustering, when the outbreaks occur, and what
happened in previous years. A right guess leads to a mild season. A wrong guess leads to a rough one.
Even if the chosen strains are incorrect, individuals should get vaccinated each year to lessen or prevent illness contraction for themselves and for their community, health officials say.
CDC has a toolkit on its website to help LTPAC employers promote the flu vaccine among their staff.
Jackie Oberst is Provider’s managing editor. Email her at joberst@providermagazine.com. Follow the magazine on Twitter @ProviderMag and @ProviderMyers.
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