October 8, 2015
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Caring for patients and caring for our community starts with caring for ourselves.
With this thought in mind, NCH—and over 500 other U.S. healthcare systems—is mandating annual influenza vaccines for employees. Among hospitals that mandated vaccine coverage last year, the rate of vaccination reached 98.1% of eligible healthcare workers. We’re off to a wonderful start with more than 2,330 vaccines distributed or administered as of yesterday without any significant side effects. RNs Melody Bainter, Regulatory Occupational Health Manager and Georgine Kruedelbach, Director of Infection Control, are leading our initiative.
There’s good reason for us and other systems to adopt such a policy.
In 2014, influenza like illness (ILI) affected 25% of healthcare workers who on average shed the virus for two and one-half days, some while on duty. Sadly and unintentionally, healthcare workers can spread the illness to hospitalized patients, who are already vulnerable with some being immuo-compromised and others being just post-op. Beyond these two vulnerable classes, there are many others in a hospital at risk, such as newborns and their mothers.
Flu is not a benign illness, particularly in the very young or very old. Typically, each year about 20% of the population will contract the flu, with hospital admissions for flu averaging 226,000 annually, resulting in approximately 49,000 deaths. Getting a flu vaccination reduces hospital admissions by 77% in persons aged 50+.
Last year, U.S. flu vaccination coverage totaled 75.2% of the population, an increase of 3% over the previous year (www.cdc.gov/flu/) At NCH in 2014, 73% of employees, physicians, students, and volunteers receive the vaccine. This year, I would urge everyone to have the flu shot, unless you have a religious or medical reason not to.
In terms of the incidence of flu globally, it is the responsibility of the World Health Organization (WHO) to predict which strains will be most prevalent. What happens elsewhere in the world months before our fall and winter flu season determines the composition of the vaccine. Predicting is never perfect, and the efficacy of the vaccine varies yearly; last year the vaccine was not as well matched as anyone desired. Virologists are working on a universal vaccine, which is probably years away from success. This year, NCH will be offering the Quadrivalent vaccine, currently predicted to be the most protective.
And one additional word on this issue. After four decades of living in southwest Florida, I am confident we will be visited by a strong surge of folks from the Northeast and Midwest this winter. As much as we enjoy their company and hosting them as they escape from the cold winter, they will also introduce plenty of illness.
So keep in mind: Good hand washing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, fist bumping instead of hand shaking, and “air” kissing rather than closer contact, can go a long way toward lowering the chances of contagion.
Vaccination and good hygiene are not perfect protectors, but they sure can help lower the burden of disease for all of us. As healthcare professionals, we know what to do to prevent the spread of illness. So let’s practice what we preach.
Allen S. Weiss, M.D., President and CEO
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