October 24, 2002
CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE
- IAC's executive director reminds her colleagues:
"Protect your patients--get a flu shot!"
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October 24, 2002
IAC'S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR REMINDS HER COLLEAGUES: "PROTECT YOUR PATIENTS--GET
A FLU SHOT!"
The following is adapted from an open letter written to health professionals
by Deborah L. Wexler, MD, Executive Director of the Immunization
Action Coalition (IAC). It appeared in the Spring 2001 issue of "NEEDLE
TIPS," IAC's flagship publication. Because the letter's message is as
pertinent as it was a year ago--and even more urgent in the fall than in the
spring--she has updated it for the 2002-2003 flu season.
If you're like most people who work in medicine, your patients' well being
is your primary concern. Yet every year more than 200,000 physicians and
nurses needlessly expose their patients to the influenza virus. Are you one
According to CDC, only 34% of physicians and nurses get vaccinated annually
against influenza. This means that over 2.3 million health professionals are
unvaccinated and at risk not only for contracting influenza but also
for passing it on to others. On average, 20,000 people die annually in the
United States from influenza or its complications. Some of these cases
are unwittingly passed from health professionals to their patients.
Why are so many of us unvaccinated? According to surveys, here are some
- "I don't get sick and I never get
About 10-25% of people get influenza each year, and health professionals
are not exempt. Many of us develop only mild symptoms of the disease and
often don't get a florid influenza syndrome. But even with minimal
symptoms, we can still transmit the full-blown illness to our patients.
As health professionals, we are notorious for going to work when sick.
With mild illness--scratchy throats, achy muscles, or low-grade
temperatures--we talk with patients, check blood pressures, and examine
throats. We breathe the air. We infect others with respiratory viruses.
- "I'm not in a risk group."
If you are a healthy person under the age of 50, you might not be in the
group at risk for influenza complications, but as a health professional,
you can put other people at risk. An unvaccinated health care worker can
expose hundreds of others to influenza. Our patients can get infected,
require hospitalization, and even die from this disease. The only
acceptable reason for our not being vaccinated is a valid medical
- "I'm concerned about side effects."
The most common side effect from influenza vaccine is a sore arm. Two
recent studies demonstrated that influenza vaccine caused no significant
difference in systemic side effects (fever, headache, fatigue, myalgias)
when compared with placebo injection. (Margolis, KL et al., JAMA 1990;
264: 1339-1141. Nichol, KL et al., Arch Intern Med. 1996; 156:1546-1550.)
- "I forget to get vaccinated or don't have
No time? Considering the risk unvaccinated health professionals pose to
their patients, you need to make influenza vaccination a top priority--for
yourself and all employees in your practice or hospital.
All medical practices, hospitals, and
long-term care facilities should require that their employees receive
influenza vaccine if at all possible. At the very least, they should make
getting vaccinated convenient and free of charge. While the investment
may seem high, in the long run, it often offers cost savings to
society, and IT SAVES LIVES. If your facility doesn't have a system in place
this year to vaccinate all staff members, start a task force now so you'll
be ready for next year's flu season.
Every fall, make sure you get vaccinated and that all staff members in your
facility do too. It's so simple. And it's lifesaving. After all, isn't this
what medicine is all about?
Deborah L. Wexler, MD