Cue the Theme Music from “Jaws” … Flu Season is Right Around the Corner

Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare

The real risk is that we’re going to have two circulating respiratory pathogens at the same time.”  This is the statement made by Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to Time magazine last month.   He went on to say this: “In high-risk groups we know flu by itself can cause substantial morbidity and mortality and hospital utilization.  This could be really a very, very difficult situation.”   Let those words sink in a minute.  In short, the next several months will be extremely challenging because there will be two pathogens to fight.  The coronavirus made an appearance in this country in early 2020 and we thought it was the flu.  Turns out it was something as or more sinister.

As of the end of July, we’ve lost 43,231 LTC residents and over 500 LTC staff members to COVID-19 and that death count continues to rise.  I shudder to think of the two pathogens working in concert to kill even more people!

This is a reminder and very strong shout-out (consider this a call to bare your arms, pun intended)  to ALL folks – especially to healthcare workers in LTC as well as acute care settings – as well as those individuals in the U.S. 6 months and older to get this year’s flu vaccine!  During the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing the overall burden of respiratory illnesses is important to protect vulnerable populations at risk for severe illness, the healthcare system and other critical infrastructure.  Healthcare providers across the country should use every opportunity during the influenza vaccination season to administer influenza vaccines to all eligible persons, including:

  • Essential workers: Including healthcare personnel (including nursing home, long-term care facility and pharmacy staff) and other critical infrastructure workforce;
  • Persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19: Including adults aged 65 years and older, residents in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and persons of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions. Severe illness from COVID-19 has been observed to disproportionately affect members of certain racial/ethnic minority groups and
  • Persons at increased risk for serious influenza complications: Including infants and young children, children with neurologic conditions, pregnant women, adults aged 65 years and older, and other persons with certain underlying medical conditions

Getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, however flu vaccination has many other important benefits. Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. Getting a flu vaccine this fall will be more important than ever, not only to reduce your risk from flu but also to help conserve potentially scarce health care resources.

Now is the time to start addressing the upcoming flu season with your staff in particular.  Here’s why (we’re going to look at stats from 2018-2019 but they’re still noteworthy as we approach this year’s flu season):

  • 2018-19 flu vaccination coverage among health care personnel (HCP) was 81.1%, similar to coverage during the past four seasons (77.3% -79.0%).
    • By occupation, flu vaccination coverage was highest among physicians (96.7%), nurses (98.1%), pharmacists (91.5%), and nurse practitioners and physician assistants (91.0%)
    • Flu vaccination coverage was lowest among other clinical health care personnel (85.8%), assistants and aides (72.5%), and nonclinical health care personnel (75.5%).
  • By work setting, flu vaccination coverage was highest among HCP working in hospitals (95.2%).
    • Flu vaccination coverage continues to be lower among HCP working in long-term care (LTC) settings (67.9%) compared with those working in hospitals and ambulatory settings and physician offices (79.8%).
    • Vaccination coverage was highest (97.7%) among health care personnel working in settings where vaccination was required. Among health care personnel whose employers did not have a requirement for vaccination coverage was higher among those who worked in locations where vaccination was offered at the worksite at no cost for 1 day only (75.6%) or >1 day (83.2%) or who worked in locations where their employer did not provide influenza vaccination on-site at no cost but actively promoted vaccination through other mechanisms (75.6%), compared with that among health care personnel working in locations where employers did not have any vaccination-related requirements or provisions (42.1%).

Check out these offerings from Briggs to get a head start on the 2020-2021 flu season.  

It’s also a good time to start looking at PPE and other supplies to make sure you have these essential work tools on hand as we march on through the COVID-19 pandemic and add an unwanted flu season on top of it.  You will need to replenish constantly so include that in your strategic planning.

Lastly, start talking about flu shots with residents and families.  Educate them on the benefits of vaccination, not only for the folks that live in your facility but their families, friends and their family’s family. 

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