December 8, 2011

Two months after Flulapalooza, flu shots still available

The national health care initiative Healthy People 2020 has set a goal that health care providers achieve a flu vaccination rate of 90 percent or higher — a goal that Vanderbilt faculty members and other health care providers are also being challenged to meet or exceed.

The influenza (flu) vaccine is a benefit for all Vanderbilt University and Medical Center faculty and staff. Yearly flu vaccination helps to reduce sick time, medical costs and the spread of flu in the community.

The flu can also be deadly. Between 1976 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that annual flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people.

Flu shots are available in Vanderbilt’s Occupational Health Clinic, now through March 2012. For dates and times of other flu shot events, check the Flu Calendar on the Flu webpage. The shots are free to faculty and staff with a valid Vanderbilt ID.

Vanderbilt had a record high flu vaccine year in 2009 with the H1N1 pandemic, but last season the Medical Center vaccination rate fell to 57 percent, about where it was before H1N1, said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “That’s disappointing. Although we don’t mandate that our faculty, staff and students receive a flu shot, we highly, highly encourage it,” he said.

“While we are thrilled with the outstanding and unprecedented participation by VUMC providers and staff as part of October’s Flulapalooza, overall vaccination rates remain in the 60 percent range,” said Paul Sternberg Jr., M.D., assistant vice chancellor for Adult Health Affairs and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences.

“There are still several thousand Medical Center team members who remain at risk for getting the flu, and then spreading it to our vulnerable patients. It is critical that they take advantage of the easy availability of the vaccine on campus, and get their flu shot.”

Paul Hain, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and associate chief of staff for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, agrees. “We know that getting a flu shot is the single most effective tool we have in keeping our patients safe from the flu. When you catch the flu, you may be spreading the virus before you notice any symptoms, so it just makes sense to take every possible precaution against bringing it into the hospital and spreading it to your patients and co-workers.”

William Schaffner, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine, is perhaps Vanderbilt’s most vocal proponent of the flu vaccine. In addition to encouraging the flu shot locally, he is frequently interviewed by national media about the importance of the flu vaccine.

“Millions of doses are given each year – it is safe,” Schaffner said. “You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine,” he said. “It’s also a patient safety issue. We all get flu vaccine so that we won’t give flu to our patients. It is our ethical and professional responsibility to protect our patients.”