A work group is attempting to increase the number of workers getting the flu vaccine with a voluntary program
November 12, 2010 -- Despite the fact that 1,316 Oregonians were hospitalized and 67 died of influenza-related illnesses last year, Oregon healthcare workers are still falling behind when it comes to vaccinating themselves for the flu.
A survey of hospitals last year revealed only about 62 percent of healthcare workers in Oregon got a flu vaccine.A statewide workgroup hopes to boost that number and encourage workers to immunize themselves against the seasonal illness.
The group, which meets on a quarterly basis, is comprised of representatives from numerous local, state and nonprofit health agencies, including the Oregon Public Health Division, Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Medical Association.
They're examining the effectiveness of a voluntary vaccination program and determining ways to increase worker vaccination rates, said Stacy Moritz, director of Medicare quality services at Acumentra Health.
“If we can increase the voluntary efforts, it becomes one less bureaucratic step we have to take,” said Collette Young with the Public Health Division's Immunization Program.
Currently, Oregon hospitals and long-term care facilities cannot mandate that workers get vaccinated, but can require them to wear masks.
During this year's special legislative session, Sen. Bill Morrisette (D-Springfield) introduced Senate Bill 1011 which would have mandated annual flu vaccinations for licensed healthcare professionals employed at long-term care and healthcare facilities employing at least 25 people
That bill was tabled after several people who testified indicated they preferred a voluntary approach. Legislators will receive an update on that voluntary program when they meet next year, said Don Bishoff, legislative assistant to Morrisette
While it's unclear how many people actually get sick from a contagious healthcare worker, people with compromised immune systems face an obvious risk.
“If somebody’s in the hospital or a long-term care facility, (illness) could be brought into the environment they’re in through an unimmunized healthcare provider who is maybe unaware that have the flu,” Moritz said.
The Office for the Oregon Health Policy and Research began collecting vaccination rates from hospitals for the 2009-10 flu season as part of the healthcare acquired infection reporting program. It showed that while 62 percent of healthcare workers got vaccinated, 12 percent refused for non-medical reasons and 1 percent refused for medical reasons.
The workgroup hopes that will change as hospitals and care facilities offer vaccination fairs and clinics and encourage healthcare workers to vaccinate each other. It will also offer incentives by producing a web-based “honor roll” recognizing those who’ve been successful.
The flu is blamed for about 36,000 deaths nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that “people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers” get vaccinated.
According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 90 percent of those who die from a flu-related illness are 65 or older.
To Learn More
To review the proposal from the work group, click here.
For more information about preventing the flu, click here.
To read Senate Bill 1011 introduced by Senator Bill Morrisette, click here.
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