Sunday, November 9, 2008

Why hospitals seek 'herd immunity'

"Herd immunity” occurs when a sufficiently large part of a population is immune to a disease. A large number of immune individuals effectively interrupts the chain of contagion from person to person. This can prevent an epidemic, and it can confer indirect protection against the disease for members of the population who are without individual immunity.

Herd immunity is why hospitals, consistent with advice of the CDC and the Joint Commission, work hard to get flu shots for their physicians, employees, and volunteers. A high level of flu vaccination within the "hospital herd” helps protect vulnerable patients – those who are older, those with multiple conditions, and those with weakened immune systems.

Richard Daines, MD, the New York State Commissioner of Health, says flu shots for physicians and hospital workers are a matter of patient safety:

[T]he failure to adequately immunize HCP (health care personnel) is a patient safety issue….Low vaccination rates among HCP are associated with an increased number of outbreaks, poor patient outcomes, and increased employee absenteeism. Despite this, HCP vaccination rates remain low…
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the percentage of health care workers getting flu shots was 42% in 2006. Dr. Daines has set a goal of 60% flu vaccinations for health care workers by 2010.

I’m pleased to observe that 74% of the employees at Community General Hospital received the flu vaccine last year. We're working for an even greater percentage this flu season.

The flu season is upon us, and the Department of Health tracks the flu, county by county. See the state map (above), which is updated weekly. Influenza was confirmed in six New York counties the week of November 1.

In recent weeks the infection control staff has given flu shots all over Community, including on weekends and evenings. Yesterday, nurse leaders conducted a flu clinic for employees and members of their families. My thanks to Employee Health and to Infection Control and Nursing Services for their special efforts to assure herd immunity at Community General this flu season.

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