If you’re looking for a nursing home for a loved one, don’t just ask about the rooms, the food and the services — ask whether the staff have had their flu shots.
A new University of Michigan/AARP National Poll on Healthy Aging found that a majority of people over age 50 believe that all staff in long-term care facilities should be required to get the flu vaccine. And a large majority of respondents said that if they knew that even a third of the staff at a nursing home hadn’t been vaccinated, they would be less likely to choose that facility.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68 percent of workers in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes get a flu shot. Yet at hospitals, more than 92 percent of workers are vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months be vaccinated against the flu every year.
“Flu and pneumonia are a critical health concern and in recent years have resulted in over 50,000 deaths annually, making it the eighth leading cause of death, just behind diabetes,” says Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research at AARP. “Over 80 percent of these deaths were among older adults ages 65 and older. Increasing vaccination rates to increase herd immunity is imperative to the health and lives of our most vulnerable.”
Preeti Malani, the poll director and a professor of internal medicine at University of Michigan Medical School and a specialist in infectious diseases and geriatrics, says it’s especially important that workers who come in contact with nursing home residents and the people who treat them be vaccinated because “these are the people who will have the highest risk of hospitalizations and complications — even death — from the flu. Nursing homes are places where there is a lot of one-on-one health care, and care in that setting can be very intimate.”
The vast majority of poll respondents (73 percent) said that nursing home medical staff should be vaccinated. What's more, 71 percent said that nonmedical staff should get a flu shot. A lower percentage (55 percent) said the flu vaccine should be mandatory for all staff. In contrast, many hospitals do require vaccination as a condition of employment but allow some staff to opt out and instead wear masks around patients during flu season.
The overwhelming majority of respondents also think that nursing homes should offer the vaccine for free to employees and require unvaccinated staff to stay home if they get sick.
The National Poll on Healthy Aging was conducted online among 2,007 people between ages 50 and 80.