This weekend, we will unofficially welcome summer. It's a time when people are thinking about swimming pools, barbeques and baseball--not the flu or flu shots. Although most people think of the flu as a fall or winter illness, preparing for the flu season and ensuring that there is sufficient vaccine supply is a year-round endeavor.
Recently, at the National Influenza Vaccine Summit in Scottsdale, AZ, the upcoming flu season was the chief topic of conversation. The Summit is a collaborative effort between the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The annual meeting brings together professionals from healthcare and public health organizations, vaccine manufacturers and distributors, consumers, and others interested in preventing vaccine-preventable diseases.
This year's Summit included a review of the H1N1 pandemic, vaccine supply projections for the 2010-2011 season and last season's vaccination rates among specific populations. I found this last topic, especially vaccination rates among healthcare workers, most interesting.
Influenza is a contagious, serious, and unpredictable illness that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the US each year. Annually 36,000 people die from the flu and more than 200,000 are hospitalized in the United States. The economic cost to the US is over $87 billion each year. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. Preliminary data from the CDC for the 2009-20120 flu season shows that only 62% of healthcare workers got a seasonal flu shot, despite strong annual recommendations. That means that nearly 40% were unprotected. Studies have shown that health care workers are a potential source of seasonal flu infections to their patients
As a native Philadelphian, I was very proud that the Summit recognized a local hospital and GSK neighbor for taking the issue of healthcare worker vaccination quite seriously. Congratulations to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for its outstanding employee influenza program which will help protect both employees and the vulnerable populations that they serve. During the 2004-2005 flu season, the hospital's employee flu vaccination rate was just 57%. Over time, the facility gradually increased the uptake of vaccines by requiring all employees working in buildings with patients or who provide patient care to get a flu shot. The presenter even noted that they brought the Phillies' mascot, the Phanatic, in to kick-off last season's program. In the 2009-2010 season, the hospital's employee flu vaccination rate was 99.6%. Now that's impressive!
For the 2010-2011 flu season, the CDC universally recommends a flu shot for everyone over the age of 6 months. It makes me wonder--do you think we will ever see a time when the population is fully vaccinated and nobody gets sick from the flu during flu season?