Campaign Makes Flu Vaccination a Patient Safety Issue

A vice president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and representatives of three allied organizations urged U.S. health care workers yesterday to be vaccinated against influenza this season. A national average of just 34 percent among HCWs is a patient safety issue because flu transmission in health care settings endangers infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and other vulnerable groups, they said during a teleconference to launch NFID's GIVe(TM) campaign.

The campaign, online at www.nfid.org/GIVe/, asks HCWs to personally commit themselves to get the annual flu shot. GIVe stands for "Get Influenze Vaccine every year." Dr. William Schaffner, vice president of NFID and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine and professor of Infectious Diseaases at Vanderbilt University, moderated the teleconference. He noted that flu caused about 51,000 excess deaths annually from 1990/91 through 1998/99 and worsens several other major halth problems, including asthma and diabetes. Litjen (L.J.) Tan, MS, Ph.D., director of Infectious Diseases, Immunology, and Molecular Medicine for the American Medical Association, said flu causes about 226,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States, while flu vaccine's benefits are estimated at $60 to $4,000 per illness averted, depending on the cost of the vaccine, flu attack rates, and the strain match of the vaccine. Not only are HCW vaccination rates low, but about 70 percent of HCWs keep working despite being ill with the flu, which means three of every five HCWs are putting themselves, their families, and their patients at risk, Tan said.

Two other speakers were Nancy Hughes, MS, RN, Occupational & Environmental Health director for the American Nurses Association, and Dr. Robert Wise, vice president of the Joint Commission's Division of Standards and Survey Methods. Hughes discussed motivational tools for HCWs and results of a 2005 survey by her association in which majorities of nurse member respondents said they were very concerned about health workers' low vaccination rates and felt vulnerable to flu themselves. Hughes said the low vaccination rate may be a question of overoptimistic risk perception. Wise noted that the Joint Commission's IC.4.15 standard, which says health care facilities should offer flu immunizations on site to all staff and licensed professional practitioners, took effect in January 2007. The Joint Commission will study its effectiveness within the next year, he said. Whether to require vaccinations was extensively debated before the decision was made to state that they should be offered, he said. Whether the shots should be offered at no change to the employees also was debated but not included in the standard.

"We've got to do better" than a 34 percent vaccination rate for the nation's health care workers, Schaffner summarized. "This is a patient safety issue -- it's beyond 'just me.' We really need to increase health care workers' influenza vaccinations every year."

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