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Low flu vaccination rates at two local nursing homes

David Topham
A single H3N2 virus, the strain responsible for last season’s flu epidemic, is viewed through electron microscopy at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Employees at two local nursing homes have some of the lowest flu vaccination rates in western New York.

According to state health department data, barely half of the staff members at the Brightonian in Brighton and the Shore Winds in Rochester were vaccinated against the flu last season.

“That is striking,” said David Topham, director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

A high rate of staff vaccination in nursing homes is important, Topham said, because while getting the flu is an inconvenience for much of the population, for the elderly, it can be deadly.

“Nursing homes, that’s probably your most vulnerable population,” he said. “We know that the fatality rate for influenza infections is highest in the elderly.”

The employee vaccination rates at the Brightonian and the Shore Winds — at 48 percent and 55 percent, respectively — were the two lowest during the last flu season in the state health department region that includes 62 nursing homes in the counties of Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates.

The facilities have been in the bottom five since the 2014-15 flu season, which is when the state started collecting vaccination data.

“You know, if I had a family member in one of those places, I’d be concerned,” said Topham.

Neither the Brightonian nor the Shore Winds responded to multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment.

The New York State Health Department declined to comment specifically about these two homes, but a spokesperson said in a statement that the department “strongly urges health care workers to get vaccinated.”

According to state regulations, if a health care worker has contact with a patient during flu season, the worker either needs to be vaccinated or wearing an approved mask.

Other nursing homes in the area are achieving much higher rates of vaccination. Twenty of them in the state health department’s Rochester region vaccinated at least 95 percent of their staff against the flu last season.

Staff at those homes said they work year-round to ensure they’re ready for each flu season.

“The education starts well into July,” said Suzanne Allman, director of nursing at Maplewood Nursing Home in Webster.

“We really try to do a great job of educating our employees on the benefits of the vaccine,” said Bob Bourg, who is in charge of human resources at St. Ann’s Community in Rochester.

Topham, the flu researcher, said education is especially important to counteract misinformation around the vaccine. He said even health care workers are susceptible to myths and bad science.

“You’d be surprised. I’ve been shocked at somebody who I would think would be educated about vaccines and infections and immunity — some of the things that they read on the internet and believe,” Topham said.

The state’s data on flu vaccination rates comes out well after each season is over, but Topham said the timing is actually a good reminder.

“Now is the time to plan for next year’s vaccination season,” he said.

The state health department's raw data on flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers is available here. WXXI has filtered the data to include only employees at nursing homes in the health department's Rochester region. That data is viewable below.