Long-Term Care and Flu

Healthcare worker and senior woman talking together

Vaccinate Health Care Providers in Long-Term Care Facilities

Influenza (flu) is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system – your nose, throat and lungs. Flu can be a serious health threat for people 65 and older and those of any age living with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and kidney and liver disorders. Health care providers in long-term care (LTC) facilities have direct or indirect contact with residents, who often are older adults, people with disabilities, and people with chronic medical conditions receiving care.

Besides vaccinating residents to protect them from flu, it is very important for health care workers to get vaccinated against flu also. Annual flu vaccination reduces flu illnesses and more serious flu outcomes that can result in hospitalization, or even death. Vaccinated workers in LTC facilities may protect residents as well as the employees themselves.

Some studies suggest an association between high flu vaccination coverage rates among health care providers and increased protection against flu among people in LTC facilities and hospitals. Preventing flu among health care providers may help reduce the spread of flu in vulnerable LTC resident populations. Despite the benefits of vaccination in the LTC setting, vaccination coverage among workers in LTC facilities is the lowest among all medical providers.

Health care providers who do not get a flu vaccine are at increased risk of becoming infected with flu in the workplace. If infected, they may spread flu to other people around them, including LTC residents and other health care providers. This may happen even before they are having symptoms since people infected with flu may be able to spread it to others one day before they get symptoms to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Vaccination of health care providers is especially important if they care for certain patient populations, such as patients who are frail older adults 65 years of age and older or those who are immune-compromised.  Sick health care providers should stay away from LTC residents.

Flu vaccination prevents millions of flu illnesses and tens of thousands of flu hospitalizations each year. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older, including health care providers, get their flu vaccine by the end of October, or as soon as possible after that date. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection, CDC recommends that people are vaccinated by the end of October so that they are protected before flu becomes prevalent in the community and in LTC facilities. Beyond October, however, vaccination efforts continue throughout the flu season to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Improving Flu Vaccination Coverage among Health Care Providers in LTC Facilities

During the 2017-2018 flu season, vaccination coverage among health care providers in LTC facilities remained low (67.4%). This puts anyone in those settings at increased risk of flu infection and possible severe flu complications. By comparison, vaccination coverage of HCP in hospital settings was nearly 92%.

So what can be done to improve vaccination coverage rates among health care workers in LTC settings? There are some proven interventions to consider. Some strategies that employers can use to reduce barriers to vaccination include offering flu vaccination:

  • On-site over multiple days and shifts.
  • Free of charge.
  • With frequent and strong promotion.

Flu Vaccination Toolkit for Long-Term Care Employers

To help LTC employers increase flu vaccination in LTC settings, the National Vaccine Program Officeexternal icon and CDC launched a Flu Toolkit for Long-Term Care Employers. This comprehensive toolkit can help LTC owners and administrators understand the importance of flu vaccination, and guide them in providing access to flu vaccination for their employees. This toolkit includes information about:

Make sure your health care providers and LTC facility residents are protected by encouraging annual flu vaccination!

Page last reviewed: October 29, 2018