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Expert: Flu Vaccine a Must for the Elderly

Says universal program would drastically cut deaths, hospitalizations

MONDAY, Aug. 12, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Universal flu vaccines for elderly people could drastically reduce deaths and hospitalizations, but doctors and health-care systems need to do more to make that happen, says Mayo Clinic vaccinologist Dr. Gregory Poland.

In an editorial that appears in the current issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Poland cites a study that found influenza vaccinations of elderly people in three HMOs over two flu seasons cut the death rate by 38 percent to 50 percent.

However, Poland criticizes doctors and health-care systems for failing to introduce universal influenza vaccination.

"Sadly, the data at hand lead to the undeniable conclusion that health-care providers as a whole may actually be a barrier to preventing death and hospitalization due to complications from influenza," Poland writes.

"Physicians and health-care systems have been aware of the benefits of the influenza vaccine, as the advantages have been repeatedly demonstrated in high-quality clinical and population-based studies for at least two decades. Despite long-standing national recommendations that make influenza immunization the standard of care, progress in improving influenza coverage rates has been unacceptably slow at best, taking decades to achieve coverage rates of 60 percent."

Poland offers some suggestions on how to achieve universal influenza vaccination for elderly people. They include:

  • Standing-order programs in hospitals that let nurses screen and immunize people for influenza and pneumococcal disease without a physician's order.
  • Development of clinic office systems to increase immunization rates. These could include reminder systems, flu clinics and standing-order programs.
  • Reimbursement by Medicare and other third-party payers for the cost of both the vaccine and administering it.

More information

The University of Maryland School of Medicine has these basic facts on the flu vaccine.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, August 2002
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