Saturday, November 14, 2009

H1N1 and health worker vaccinations

I am pleased to say that 90% of the employees at Community General Hospital have been vaccinated against the seasonal flu. That's a high proportion, and it should help protect our patients.

Vaccinations against the H1N1 (swine) flu started several weeks after the seasonal flu vaccine arrived, and to date about 50% of Community's employees have received the H1N1 vaccine. The Infection Control and Employee Health Departments are following-up with employees, and we are hoping for a higher vaccination rate.

When the New York State Department Health mandated flu vaccine for heath care workers, there was a fair amount of controversy, resulting in a lawsuit and a temporary injunction. With H1N1 vaccine in short supply, the state has since rescinded its mandate but promised to introduce permanent regulations to require vaccinations for health care workers in the future.

Given the state controversy and the mass media stories about the vaccine safety, some people may have second thoughts about the H1N1 vaccine.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported that 98,000 people have been hospitalized so far with H1N1 flu, with more than one-third of them under age 17. Of the 3,900 deaths from the H1N1 flu, fully 75% have been in adults between the ages of 18 and 64. This is different from the experience of seasonal influenza, in which 90% of the deaths typically occur in those 65 years of age and older.

There are risks to every medical procedure, of course, but the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration report the H1N1 vaccine to be safe, and these agencies say the benefits of the H1N1 vaccine “will far outweigh the risks.” For a review of vaccine side effects, as well of the risks of the H1N1 flu itself, go to the CDC’s “General Questions and Answers on 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine Safety.”

I urge everyone who is able to be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.

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