More health workers urged to get flu vaccine after 80,000 deaths last season
Health officials on Thursday urged healthcare providers to increase the stagnant healthcare worker influenza vaccination rates in the wake of a heavy death toll in the last flu season, which resulted in an estimated 80,000 deaths.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said the vaccination rates among healthcare workers was embarrassing. According to the figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday at a press conference in Washington D.C., the flu vaccination rate among healthcare workers was 78.4% during the 2017-18 season compared to 78.6% during the 2016-17 season.
Healthcare personnel working in long-term care settings performed worst last flu season with a rate of 67.4% and hospitals did the best at a rate of 92%, while ambulatory care workers were estimated to have a rate of 75.1%
Adams said healthcare personnel had a responsibility to set a positive example and get vaccinated to encourages patients to follow suit, and that is up to their employers, largely. "The strongest predictor of whether or not a person gets vaccination is whether or not they get a strong provider recommendation," Adams said. "It's important to lead by example."
Workplaces where personnel were required to get their flus shot had the highest vaccination rates at 95% compared to 48% among settings where vaccination was not required, promoted or offered on site. Roughly 44% of healthcare personnel reported they were required to get a flu shot, with workers in long-term care settings the least likely to have a requirement for vaccination.
Workers in settings where employers had no vaccination requirements were more likely to get flu shots when they were offered at their work site, offered at no or low cost, or actively promoted.
For the upcoming season vaccine manufacturers have estimated distributing up to 168 million doses of influenza vaccine in the U.S.
"There are simple steps that employers can take to help keep their employees safe and healthy so that they come to work, and to keep the people they are caring for safe and healthy," Adams said.
Overall, health officials said the importance of improving vaccination rates was illustrated by the severity of last year's flu season, which caused more than 900,000 hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
Among the 80,000 flu deaths recorded last season were 180 children, of which 80% were found to have not been vaccinated, Adams said. Despite the heavy health toll of last-year's flu season vaccination rates that year decreased across most age groups and populations.
Approximately 58% of children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years were vaccinated during the 2017-18 season compared to 59% during the 2016-17 season and 59.3% during the previous season.
The rate among pregnant women also fell from last season, with just less than half getting a flu shot compared to 53% during the 2016-2017 season.
A contributing factor to the lower rates could have been reports early in last-year's season that found the vaccine was around 40% effective, which is on the lower end of the estimate range the CDC gives on yearly effectiveness of the vaccine. During good years the vaccine can be as high as 60% effective. Such reports could have discouraged some from getting vaccinated out of concerns that it would not work.
Adams said that some effectiveness provided by taking the vaccine was better than no protection at all. "The best way to protect yourself, regardless of the effectiveness, is with a flu vaccination," Adams said.
Among the list vaccine products that will be available this year is a return of AstraZeneca's nasal spray FluMist, which in 2016 the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices vaccine recommended not to be used for the 2016-17 season after it was found to lack of effectiveness the three previous years compared to the shot.
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