Health officials implore healthcare workers to 'lead by example,' get flu shots; LTC still worst

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Healthcare workers should “lead by example” and get their influenza vaccinations sooner than later, health officials said on Thursday.

William Schaffner, M.D., joined Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., to stress the importance of flu shots for those working in healthcare facilities.

“For healthcare professionals, it's critical that we lead by example by getting vaccinated to protect our patients and ourselves,” Schaffner told reporters at a press conference.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data on Thursday showing that in general, 79% of healthcare personnel received the shot during the 2016-2017 flu season, on par with the preceding three flu seasons. But those working in long-term care settings fell short of hospitals (92%) and ambulatory care settings (76%), with a 68% vaccination rate for that season.

Flu shot coverage was also found to be highest at facilities where vaccinations were required (97%), and lowest where it was either not mandatory, promoted or offered on site.

Schaffner encouraged “support from the highest level of administration, all the way down to everyone working in the facility” to boost vaccination rates among healthcare workers.

Kathleen Neuzil, M.D., MPH, with the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland, also stressed the importance of vaccinations for those over age 65. For those individuals, a high-dose vaccine may help improve immune response and prevent hospitalizations, she noted.

“People 65 and older account for about 85% of the flu-related deaths that occur in this country,” Neuzil said. “Protecting others should be a powerful motivation for us to get our vaccine.”