Emory Report
January 30, 2006
Volume 58, Number 17


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January 30, 2006
Vaccinating a vulnerable population: health care workers

BY holly korschun

Patients count on their health care providers to lead the way in modeling disease prevention, yet annual flu vaccination rates for health care workers are typically less than 45 percent, according to the CDC.

A new project led by the Emory Vaccine Center and the Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats will try to increase vaccine coverage among Atlanta-area hospital workers. The result, project leaders hope, will be improved health for the health care providers themselves, less employee absenteeism in hospitals during flu season, and decreased transmission of influenza to patients and their families.

The project is one of five funded nationally by the Chiron Foundation to promote public awareness and education about immunization and vaccine-preventable diseases. Each year, influenza accounts for about 36,000 deaths, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended annual flu vaccines for health care workers.

“By adopting a community-based approach to increased vaccination, we believe we can have a significant impact on health in the metro Atlanta area,” said Walter Orenstein, associate director of the vaccine center and principal investigator of the grant. The project director is Julie Gazmararian, associate research professor in the Rollins School of Public Health’s Center on Health Outcomes and Quality.

Although several studies have demonstrated the benefits of vaccinating health care workers against influenza, they have focused on individual institutions; no studies have compared coverage rates among different facilities in a community or different policies that might account for these differences.

Emory’s project began late last year. Interviewers surveyed directors of employee health programs and directors of infection control in 12 hospitals in the metro Atlanta area. The goal was to understand current policies on vaccination of health care workers and to obtain data on recent vaccination coverage; to determine how decisions are made about purchasing flu vaccine; and to find out whether particular policies are correlated with higher coverage rates.

Surveys were conducted at Emory Hospital, Crawford Long Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, Grady Hospital, Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital, Atlanta VA Medical Center, Atlanta Medical Center, DeKalb Medical Center, Northside Hospital, Piedmont Hospital, Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite and South Fulton Medical Center.

“By studying multiple institutions in one community, we hope to improve vaccine coverage in all the facilities by documenting which policies seem to be most effective,” Gazmararian said. “We received excellent cooperation from all the hospitals we surveyed. We also expect our data to be useful in hospital settings around the country as facilities develop their own interventions to increase vaccination coverage.”