Immunization Action Coalition and the Hepatitis B Coalition

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Issue Number 344            October 24, 2002

CONTENTS OF THIS ISSUE

  1. 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.


Dear Colleagues,

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 of them?

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 reasons:

  1. "I don't get sick and I never get influenza."
    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.
     
  2. "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 contraindication.
     
  3. "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.)
     
  4. "I forget to get vaccinated or don't have time."
    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
Executive Director 

 

Immunization Action Coalition1573 Selby AvenueSt. Paul MN 55104
E-mail: admin@immunize.org Web: http://www.immunize.org/
Tel: (651) 647-9009Fax: (651) 647-9131

This page was updated on October 24, 2002