The data was announced Thursday during a news conference held by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases that included Dr. Howard Koh, assistant health secretary at HHS, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease. Both praised the increase in coverage but said more needed to be done to ensure public safety from a potential outbreak.
Healthcare providers, Koh said, should promote flu vaccination as a national standard in light of last year's flu season, when virus activity began earlier than normal and remained elevated for 15 consecutive weeks causing 164 pediatric deaths, the highest number reported with the exception of the H1N1 pandemic during the 2009-2010 season.
A reported 72% of healthcare workers got influenza vaccination during 2012-2013, a sharp increase over the previous season's total of 66%. Among the highest to get immunized within this group were physicians, who got vaccinated at a rate of 92%. Pharmacists, physician assistants, nurses and nurse practitioners all had vaccination coverage above 80%, while nonclinical staff, including food service workers, maintenance, housekeeping and administrative staff had the lowest coverage at 65%.
The increase comes as an increasing a number of health systems and, more recently, some state governments are requiring that healthcare workers get vaccinated or wear masks if they decline.
“We really want everyone working around patients to be vaccinated to protect not just themselves and their families but the people they take care of who are often so vulnerable,” Schuchat said.
She said healthcare personnel working in a hospital setting had the highest rate of vaccination at 83%, while only 59% of those working in a long-term-care facility reported getting vaccinated.
“We have not made progress in this population,” Schuchat said. Lack of access may explain the disparity, she said, because hospitals are more likely to offer flu vaccines to their workers for free.
Schuchat also noted the efforts of healthcare systems to encourage their staff to get immunized have played a large part in the rise in vaccination coverage.
“We luckily have an early and an effective intervention that works in terms of decreasing the risks of transmitting flu from our employees, from our doctors to our patients,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, chief medical officer for New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “The last thing I want to do is ever have a conversation with a family in terms of why their loved one got sick in our hospital because somebody from our staff transmitted flu to your loved one as a patient.”
This year, the New York Health Department will require flu vaccinations or masks for most workers at hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers, nursing homes, hospices and home care agencies.
Liebowitz, who said flu vaccination rates among medical staff at NY-Presbyterian were around 90% and between 70% and 75% among nonmedical employees, explained that hospital staff who refused to get immunized were required to watch a 25-minute video that talked about the risk of flu and had to wear a mask through the flu season.
The CDC said about 135 million doses of flu vaccine will be available this season with different varieties, including a high-dose version for people over the age of 65 years, as well as a version made in cell culture, an egg-free version for those with allergies, and for the first time a vaccine that will provide protection against four strains of the flu virus.
“Flu vaccination represents the simple investment that we can make year in and year out to maximize the gift of health,” Koh said.
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