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Vaccines for care staff

Flu vaccines for care home staff would cut risks for elderly, says study

Vaccinating care home staff against flu would cut complications and deaths from the disease among elderly residents, a new analysis concludes.

The researchers called for care home staff to be included in the annual flu vaccination campaign after finding 'clear evidence' of benefits.

Their study reported evidence that the strategy would save lives and resources, and reduce the incidence of flu-like illnesses, even in years with below-average flu activity.

Care homes in the UK do not routinely vaccinate their staff, and neither do care home workers qualify for vaccination by their GP, as they do not count as health care workers or carers.

But the new Department of Health-funded research has questioned that policy, after comparing staff from 44 care homes in the UK – half of which promoted flu vaccination – during the winters of 2003/4 and 2004/5.

In the 2003/4 flu season, homes in which staff had been vaccinated had five fewer deaths for every 100 residents. There were also nine fewer cases of influenza-like illness, seven fewer GP consultations and two fewer admissions to hospital per 100 residents. No major differences were seen in the winter of 2004/5, a below-average flu season.

Study leader Dr Andrew Hayward, senior lecturer in infectious disease epidemiology at University College London, said: 'The Department of Health recommends NHS staff are vaccinated, but employers of carers in other settings should only "consider" offering them vaccines, which is a weaker recommendation.

'There needs to be thought as to how flu vaccines can be more routinely offered to nursing home employees. Potentially, there are costs, but the clear reductions in deaths, GP consultations and hospital admissions among residents mean there are advantages both to care home residents and the NHS.'

The department said it encouraged social care employers to consider offering immunisations for staff in nursing and care homes, but made no commitment to provide vaccination on the NHS.

Dr Sohail Butt, a GP in Ashford, Surrey, and North Surrey PCT lead for care of older people, said: 'It sounds like the Government trying to wriggle out of it and make care homes pay for their own vaccinations.'

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