Free High-Dose Flu Shots Keep Seniors Independent


Back in my business school days, I was asked to solve a problem encountered by a video store (Yes, it was some time ago).

The store was plagued with renters who ignored the request to rewind tapes after playing them. When the next renter put the tape in a VCR, they’d face the nuisance of rewinding it.

My classmates and I struggled with the business case. We suggested posting notices (Please be kind. Rewind.) and threatening fines or even loss of membership for those who wouldn’t comply.

Some even thought of altering the video case so that it couldn’t hold a tape that wasn’t rewound. Nothing seemed feasible.

Fortunately, the store found a solution. They started asking customers to rewind tapes before playing them. Problem solved.

In long-term care, we typically look to obvious, and often expensive, solutions: more staff, more facilities, more beds.

These solutions do play a critical part in ensuring appropriate care is provided and waiting lists are manageable. But are we overlooking simple, creative solutions?

Yes we are.

One of the best ways to ensure people avoid harm in long-term care is to keep them from going there in the first place.

Many provinces do this in part by having lengthy waiting lists: no beds, no long-term care. That is not the solution.

Those waiting for long-term care typically have high needs, and informal, unpaid caregivers are often cracking under the strain.

But there is another way to reduce the need for long-term care. Funding high-dose flu shots for all Canadians 65 and over would keep thousands out of hospitals and long-term care homes every year.

Many people’s physical health will gradually deteriorate to the point they can no longer remain at home, even with support. Long-term care is the only place that can meet their needs.

But that’s not always the case. About one in six people live independently (without any homecare) when a single negative event ends up forcing them into long-term care. Falls and flus are among the most common such events.

A broken hip or the influenza virus will land an individual in hospital. While people may recover to some extent, all too often they don’t regain the stamina and strength necessary to manage on their own.

This is particularly tragic when it comes to the flu, as so many instances of influenza can be prevented.

Over 8,000 seniors end up in hospital every year due to influenza. Many of them were living independently before becoming ill, but leave the hospital not to go home but to enter long-term care.

While flu shots aren’t 100 per cent effective, 47 per cent of individuals vaccinated with a high-dose flu shot are protected from influenza.

Many medications are less effective in older patients. Compared to the standard flu shot, the high dose flu vaccine is 24 per cent more effective in those 65 and over, and 32 per cent more effective in those 75 and up.

We need to invest in appropriate support for older Canadians, including in long-term care. At the same time, why not invest some funds to provide critical vaccines that keep seniors healthy and active, rather than waiting until they need long-term care, with its attendant risks?

CARP is calling on all provinces to fund high-dose flu vaccines for residents 65 and over. We won’t solve our long-term care problems overnight. But we can solve them for many people — by ensuring they never need it.

Grey Matters is a weekly column by Wanda Morris, the VP of Advocacy for CARP, a 300,000 member national, non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates for financial security, improved health-care for Canadians as we age. Missed a week? Past columns by Wanda and other key CARP contributors can be found at