Free Webinar Addresses Flu Vaccination for Older Adults

May 12, 2016 02:02 pm Jessica Pupillo

Family physicians can learn the latest information on influenza vaccines, particularly those used in patients 65 years and older, by viewing a free, 30-minute AAFP webinar that originally aired on May 17 at 11 a.m. CDT.

[Physician giving senior woman vaccination]

The webinar covers how family physicians can increase influenza vaccination rates in their practices, especially for older adults. Panelists review data on morbidity and mortality, as well as on the effectiveness of the standard and high-dose influenza vaccines. Resources to help increase accuracy and revenue when coding and billing for vaccinations are also shared. Titled "Benefits of the Influenza Vaccine for Adults 65 Years and Older," the webinar is presented by Thomas Koinis, M.D., a family physician with Duke Primary Care in Oxford, N.C., and is funded by an unrestricted educational grant from Sanofi Pasteur.

Particular Danger to Older Adults

Influenza, with its acute onset of fever, cough, sore throat, rhinitis, myalgia, headache and malaise, results in between 4,000 and 40,000 deaths per year, Koinis said. It's difficult to pinpoint the number of deaths caused by influenza, he said, because it's often not reported on death certificates. Rather, the cause of death often is attributed to a secondary infection such as pneumonia, sepsis or renal failure, or to a flu-aggravated comorbidity such as congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Story Highlights
  • The AAFP is offering a free webinar on the benefits of the influenza vaccine for older adults.
  • Panelists discuss strategies to increase vaccination rates, coding and billing resources, and data on the efficacy of influenza vaccines.
  • Presenter Thomas Koinis, M.D., explains which vaccines will be available for the 2016-2017 flu season and how their composition will have changed from those used during the previous season.

Older adults are most likely to be hospitalized or die from influenza or related complications. "Ninety percent of all deaths from influenza are in our 65 and older population, and two-thirds of hospitalizations from influenza are in that age group," Koinis told AAFP News.

"The flu vaccine is the single best way of preventing influenza infection," he said. "Because so many of our seniors have coexisting morbidities, illnesses and other medical problems, they are at a far greater risk of complications from influenza."

Although response to the influenza vaccine decreases with age, family physicians should be vigilant about ensuring their elderly patients are vaccinated. "Even a 20 percent to 25 percent boost in seniors' response rates translates to a significant number of hospitalizations and deaths avoided," Koinis said. "It would be nice if we had 100 percent efficacy, but we are far from that ideal. Every incremental change is beneficial."

Resources for the 2016-2017 Flu Season

The webinar is intended to help family physicians understand the vaccine choices available to all patients, including those 65 and older and those with egg allergies. Koinis explains which vaccines will be available in the 2016-2017 flu season and how their composition has changed from those used during the previous season.

The webinar also highlights available data on the high-dose vaccine indicated for older adults. The high-dose vaccine contains four times the antigen as other flu vaccines; however, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has not made a preferential recommendation for it for these older patients.

Viewers also can learn about a new seasonal flu vaccine containing an adjuvant that the FDA approved last year. This vaccine enhances the body's response to the antigen and has been used throughout Europe for all ages for a few years, Koinis said.

Although new vaccines continue to be made available, only about 65 percent of people are vaccinated, said Koinis. One-third of seniors and about half of the rest of the population do not get vaccinated, statistics that the health care community has struggled to improve year after year, he said.

"Still, in our medical community we take influenza a little too lightly," Koinis said. If we had immunization rates upward of 80 percent, he added, "we'd see a big drop in what's going around and how much trouble we're having with the flu."

Following a mild 2015-2016 influenza season with good vaccine efficacy, Koinis worries that people could be even more lax about getting a flu shot this fall.

Finally, the webinar reviews the most common reasons why people skip vaccination and gives suggestions for increasing vaccination rates. Evidence-based strategies include using standing orders and sending patients flu shot reminders. Koinis also shares strategies for talking with patients who are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

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