California’s Effort to #FightFlu with Vaccines

By Hilary Haycock, President, Jennifer Ryan, Vice President and Kevin Wren, Communications and Public Affairs Consultant.

Flu season is upon us and National Influenza Week is starting on December 2nd. The CDC recommends an annual flu shot as the first, and most important, line of defense. Vaccines.gov echoes this sentiment, noting that millions of people get the flu every year, and the seasonal flu vaccine can lower the risk of getting the flu by as much as 50 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the flu results in over 200,000 hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year in the US. Certain populations – older adults and those with underlying health conditions – are at greater risk for developing serious complications (e.g., pneumonia) from influenza and are at greater risk for hospitalization and death.

CCI #FightsFlu

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and California Department of Health Care Services are working to ensure that as many beneficiaries as possible get information about the threat of influenza, particularly for older adults and those with complex health needs. California’s Coordinated Care Initiative (CCI) is partnering with CMS on a vaccine campaign to stem the spread of the flu.

The new initiative is focused on making sure that that individuals in California who are enrolled in both Medicare and Medi-Cal get vaccinated. Older adults, individuals with disabilities, and beneficiaries with limited English proficiency face the greatest barriers to getting information about, and access to, flu vaccinations and other preventive care. Regardless of one’s language, the #FightFlu campaign is making sure information is as straightforward as possible by encouraging beneficiaries to visit the doctor, pharmacy, health department, or clinic to receive a free vaccine to reduce infection and help save lives.

Reaching populations whose primary language is not English is key for preventing community-based influenza outbreaks, particularly in California, as 44 percent of California residents over the age of five speak a language other than English at home. The CCI is making outreach materials – posters, flyers, and mailers – available in 22 different languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Flu Risk Factors: Age and Language

People who are 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu because our immune defenses weaken with age. While flu seasons vary in severity from year to year, between 70 percent and 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have consistently occurred in people 65 years and older. What is more, between 50 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur among people in that age group.

Influenza can also worsen long-term health problems like heart disease and diabetes. However,  vaccines have reduced the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations among adults by 40 percent on average. Moreover, a 2018 CDC study showed that from 2012 to 2015, flu vaccinations among seniors reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82 percent.

Preventive measures, like flu vaccines, are crucial for efficiently improving health outcomes, like minimizing unnecessary hospitalizations. Making sure everyone knows this simple vaccine is safe, effective and affordable is our goal. Do your part: get your annual flu shot, spread the word and help California #FightFlu!