JCR Challenges Health Workers to Get Their Flu Shots

Joint Commission Resources Inc. (JCR), a not-for-profit affiliate of The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies more than 15,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, has launched a Flu Vaccination Challenge to underscore the responsibility that hospitals have to help keep their employees and patients healthy this flu season. The challenge, which begins in September and runs through the flu season until May 2009, is designed to increase flu vaccination rates among health care workers, the majority of whom, according to a recent CDC survey, elect not to receive a flu vaccination despite their increased risk of exposure to the contagious and potentially deadly infection given their work environment. During the 2005-2006 flu season, for example, only 42 percent of surveyed health care workers received a flu vaccination.

Health care workers infected with the flu can transmit the virus to patients in their care, which is particularly troubling for the many patients at high-risk for flu-related complications that can lead to serious illness, and even death (mostly in adults 65 and older). JCR notes that in past years, flu infections have been documented in health care settings and health care workers have been implicated as the potential source of these infections. Anyone who lives with or cares for people at high-risk of complications should get vaccinated, JCR says, adding that vaccination can help caregivers stay healthy and avoid passing the infection to others, which is the ultimate goal of its challenge.

“The Flu Vaccination Challenge highlights for health care workers the value that flu vaccinations can have on patient safety," said Barbara M. Soule, R.N., M.P.A., C.I.C., Practice Leader, Infection Prevention and Control Services, JCR. "Doctors, nurses, technical and administrative staff may care for patients with compromised immune systems including the elderly and people living with a chronic disease. As a professional devoted to ‘do no harm,’ flu vaccination gives me an opportunity to help protect my patients by decreasing the chances that I will get the flu and pass it along to my patients.”

During the course of the 2008-2009 flu season challenge, hospitals that achieve a vaccination rate of 43 percent or more will be recognized for their dedication to helping keep their employees healthy and helping to protect their patients. Flu viruses are mainly spread from person to person via airborne particles from coughing or sneezing. Transmission may also occur through direct or indirect contact, such as when touching something already laden with the flu virus, then touching the eyes, nose or mouth.

According to JCR, on average more than 200,000 hospitalizations occurred each year from 1979 to 2001 as a result of flu and its complications, and approximately 36,000 people died each year from 1990 to 1999 from the flu and its related complications; more than 90 percent of these deaths occurred among people 65 years of age or older. According to CDC, annual flu vaccination is the most effective method for preventing flu virus infection and its complications.

The beginning, severity, and length of the flu season can vary widely from year to year. CDC says vaccination should be given as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available and if possible by October; however, getting a vaccination in December or later can still be beneficial since most flu activity occurs in January and beyond in most years. Since January 1, 2007, The Joint Commission has required accredited hospitals, critical access hospitals and long term care organizations to offer the flu vaccination annually, on site, to staff and licensed independent practitioners.

JCR received funding and other support from GlaxoSmithKline for the Flu Vaccination Challenge initiative. For additional information on the importance of vaccination against the flu and how health care workers can help improve their flu vaccination rates, visit www.FluVaccinationChallenge.com.

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