All ages urged to get flu shot, help to protect health of seniors

Rates of influenza vaccination for seniors are good, but British Columbians of all ages could help the elderly by boosting overall immunization rates, the B.C. Seniors Advocate said Thursday.

While 87 per cent of seniors in long-term-care facilities, 69 per cent of seniors living at home with support and 37 per cent of all residents over 65 received a publicly funded flu vaccine in 2018, according to Isobel Mackenzie, the immunization rate for the overall population was much lower, at 15 to 20 per cent.

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That mean the risk remains high that influenza could spread to vulnerable seniors, for whom vaccines are sometimes not effective, she said.

“We should be getting that number up, up, up, up,” Mackenzie told the Times Colonist. “It’s not just about your grandmother getting a flu shot. It’s also about you getting a flu shot.”

Vaccine rates also vary by geographic area, Mackenzie said.

While 40 per cent of seniors living in the Island Health region and 49 per cent in the Interior Health Authority area got the flu vaccine in 2018, the number plummets to 26 per cent in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

“That’s quite a difference, so we are going to be taking a look at that to see if there is some work we should be doing in Vancouver Coastal,” said Mackenzie.

She said figures were drawn only from the publicly funded vaccination programs in 2018. The number of people vaccinated through privately paid programs, such as those delivered at work, was not available, but is not believed to be large.

Mackenzie’s annual report measuring performance for seniors’ services in health care, housing, transportation, income supports and personal supports showed those age 65 and older in 2018 numbered 912,725, about 18 per cent of the population, up from 14 per cent in 2008.

But the numbers of those aged 75 to 84, at five per cent of the population, and 85 and up, at two per cent, have remained stable since 2008.

Mackenzie said that means the strains on seniors’ services and health care, predicted as the population ages, have not yet arrived.

“What we are really seeing is the beginning of that move, the demographic shift as the boomer generation gets older,” she said. “But the cautionary note of the stresses on the health-care system is that we are not really experiencing yet the kind of volume increases that will be coming at us in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Some good news in the latest report is the overall good health of B.C. seniors.

For those age 65 and older, 20 per cent are living with chronic or complex health conditions and only six per cent have dementia. For those age 85 and older, 20 per cent are living with dementia.

Mackenzie said those numbers have remained stable for the past five years, indicating seniors are relatively healthy.

“We are not seeing or experiencing much higher rates of chronic complex illness or dementia,” she said. “We are experiencing higher absolute numbers, but as a proportion of the population, we have not seen any increases.”

• To read the entire report, go to and look under Reports and Publications.

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