Patients count on their healthcare providers to lead the way in modeling disease prevention, yet annual flu vaccination rates for healthcare workers are typically less than 45 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A new project led by the Emory Vaccine Center and the Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats (SECEBT) will try to increase vaccine coverage among healthcare workers in Atlanta area hospitals and also serve as a model for other areas of the country. The result, they hope, will be improved health for the healthcare 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. Influenza accounts for about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations in an average year. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended annual flu vaccines for healthcare workers for many years.
"By adopting a community-based approach to increased vaccination, we believe we can have a significant impact on health in the metro Atlanta area," says Walter Orenstein, MD, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center and principal investigator of the grant. The project director is Julie Gazmararian, PhD, MPH, associate research professor in the Emory Center on Health Outcomes and Quality in the Rollins School of Public Health.
Although several national studies have demonstrated the benefits of vaccinating healthcare workers against influenza, these studies have focused on individual institutions, and no studies have compared coverage rates among different facilities in a community or different policies that might account for these differences.
The Emory 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 of the survey was to understand current policies on vaccination of healthcare 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 University Hospital, Emory Crawford Long Hospital, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, Grady Memorial 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," Dr. Gazmararian says. "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."