The elderly are the group most likely to have complications from the flu. Complications include pneumonia (the leading flu-related cause of death), heart attack as a result of a weakened respiratory system and sepsis caused by a severe infection.

The elderly are the most susceptible to the flu, and residents of nursing facilities are even more likely to be infected, since disease spreads easily between patients. Since 2005, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have required that all residents be vaccinated.

New Vaccines for Elderly

There are two newer vaccines that are recommended to the elderly. The first is the adjuvanted flu vaccine, which has been shown to be 63% more effective for seniors than the regular flu vaccine. The second is the high dose flu vaccine, which produces more antibodies than the regular vaccine and reduces influenza infections by 24%.

Vaccines for Healthcare Workers

In addition to vaccinating the residents of nursing facilities, it’s also important that everyone who comes in contact with them is vaccinated as well. That includes healthcare workers, social workers and family members who come to visit.

A study by the University of Michigan found that 91% of respondents felt that flu vaccines should be required for all staff in nursing facilities and assisted living. Despite almost everyone agreeing that it should be done, it’s not actually being done in all nursing homes. Many hospitals these days are requiring all staff to be vaccinated, although some will allow staff to wear masks instead of vaccination. A similar policy in nursing facilities would raise the vaccination rate and keep both staff and the elderly residents healthier.

Breaking Down Resistance to Vaccines

Carol Hayes, a nurse-midwife, says that one of the reasons people are resistant to vaccinations is that they have received misinformation about the vaccine. For instance, many people believe that the flu vaccine will actually cause them to contract the flu. She recommends educating people about the vaccine, so that their resistance fades away.

Let’s protect our elderly and get vaccinated for flu each winter!