The Importance of Flu Vaccinations in Care Settings

By Baljit Kaur, Pharmacy Director at Smarta Healthcare (www.smartahealthcare.co.uk)

With the 2020 influenza season approaching and the NHS under more strain than ever before due to the COVID-19 pan- demic, it is vital that care home residents receive their annual flu vaccination.

Here is a breakdown of the importance of the flu vaccina- tion in care home settings and why all residents should receive it this year:

WHAT IS THE FLU VACCINE?

Flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, meaning that it con- tains killed influenza virus, or a recombinant vaccine that pro- tect against infection by influenza viruses by stimulating the immune system to produce an immune response (antibodies) to the virus. Each year, influenza viruses change slightly, mak- ing the seasonal vaccine used in previous years ineffective, meaning the vaccination must be administered to patients every flu season.

The vaccination helps stimulate the body’s immune system to make antibodies to attack the flu virus if infected. It takes between 10 to 14 days for the immune system to respond fully after having the vaccination.

Those aged 65 and over are often given the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine. This vaccine contains an adjuvant that helps the immune system develop a stronger response to the vac- cine, making it more effective. This is particularly important for those in care homes, as many will be suffering with chronic ill- ness, which means their immune system will be a lot weaker.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO ENSURE ALL CARE HOME RESIDENTS ARE VACCINATED?

It is especially important to ensure all care home residents are vaccinated as they are at much higher risk of complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia when contracting flu, due to the changes in immune defences as we get older. The immune system is a lot weaker in the elderly and when accompanied with other health conditions, the body may struggle to fight off the virus.

In long-stay residential homes, vaccination helps prevent the rapid spread of flu among residents, there- fore protecting all residents from the virus.

It is encouraged that all those over the age of 65 receive a flu vaccination and is offered free of charge by the NHS. Residents with chronic illnesses, neurological conditions and diabetes should all be prioritised and vaccinated as soon as possible.

Because the flu is so contagious, it is important that those working in care home settings are also vaccinat- ed to further reduce the risk of an care home outbreak.

WHEN IS IT BEST TO CONDUCT THE FLU VACCINE?

The best time to have a flu vaccine is in the autumn, just before the flu starts circulating. Vaccinations should start in September and care homes should try to get vaccinated as soon as possible. However even if vaccinations cannot take place until a little later, it is still important to get residents vaccinated. Flu circulates every winter and generally peaks in December and January, which is when residents will be most at risk of contracting it, so further precautions should be taken throughout the home to maintain hygiene. These meas- ures will also help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

HOW CAN ENSURING ALL RESIDENTS ARE VACCINATED HELP IN REGARDS TO A POTENTIAL SECOND

WAVE OF COVID-19?

Vaccinating all residents against influenza is extremely important, especially in regards to a potential sec- ond wave of COVID-19. During influenza season, the NHS sees an increase of patients with serious flu-com- plications. By ensuring all residents are vaccinated, it could minimise this risk and ensure hospitals are under less pressure with influenza patients, therefore enabling them to have more beds and resources available to cope with COVID-19 patients.

There are also concerns that people could suffer from both COVID-19 and seasonal flu simultaneously, resulting in the health service becoming overwhelmed. This winter more than ever, with COVID-19 still circu- lating and the risk of an influx in cases as we approach the colder months, we need to help reduce all avoid- able risks. Vaccinating care home residents will help reduce flu transmission and reduce the need for hospitalisation as a result of influenza complications.

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