More physicians on track to get flu shots

Health care workers at hospitals have the highest vaccination rate — 83.4%. Immunization is lowest at long-term-care facilities.

By — Posted Dec. 14, 2012

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Physicians are close to achieving ambitious national objectives set for them for flu vaccinations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CDC data posted online Dec. 3 found that 83.8% of doctors had been immunized against influenza as of Nov. 18. The Healthy People 2020 target is a 90% vaccination rate for health professionals.

The CDC said 75.5% of physicians had been immunized by mid-November 2010.

The findings come as the CDC is urging health care workers to prepare for what could be a more severe influenza season than usual.

“Physicians and pharmacists are getting pretty close to the 2020 goal. That’s tremendous,” said Carolyn B. Bridges, MD, the CDC’s associate director for adult immunizations. “We want the medical community to lead by example. That’s the best way to make sure our highest-risk patients are protected against influenza.”

Contributing to the increase in immunized doctors are efforts by professional medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association, to promote the importance of health care workers getting an annual flu shot, Dr. Bridges said. The 2009 influenza A(H1N1) pandemic, which infected about 61 million people and led to more than 12,000 deaths in the U.S., also helped to remind physicians about the severity of influenza, she said.

Physicians are surpassed in coverage only by pharmacists (88.7% had been vaccinated by mid-November). Work is needed to boost flu vaccination in other health care sectors, the CDC said. Improvements are particularly important among nurse practitioners and physician assistants (73.3% were immunized by mid-November), administrative and nonclinical support staff (54.5%), and medical assistants or aides (43.4%), according to the CDC study of 2,006 adults.

Participants worked in a medical-care setting or had a job that involved hands-on patient care. They were surveyed between Nov. 1 and Nov. 18 about their flu vaccine history and beliefs concerning influenza and vaccination. Weighted estimates were calculated to be generalizable to the U.S. population of health professionals (link).

Researchers found that 62.9% of all health care workers had been immunized by early November. That is similar to the 63.4% who were vaccinated at the same time in 2011.

In 2012, vaccinations for health care workers have been highest in hospitals (83.4%), followed by physician offices or ambulatory care settings (65.4%) and long-term-care facilities (48.7%).

The CDC recommends continuing successful vaccine campaigns for health occupations with high vaccination rates and boosting such efforts in health care sectors where immunization is lagging.

In November, the AMA House of Delegates approved policy at its Interim Meeting that requires annual influenza immunization for physicians and other workers who have direct contact with patients in long-term-care settings. Workers who have medical contraindications or religious objections should be exempt from the requirement, the policy said.

Bad flu year anticipated

For the general U.S. population, flu vaccine coverage is remaining steady, CDC data show. By mid-November, 36.5% of adults and children had been immunized, which is nearly unchanged from the 36.3% vaccinated at the same time in 2011.

Among pregnant women, a group that has an increased risk of complications from influenza, 47.3% had been immunized by Nov. 18. During the same period in 2011, 43.2% were vaccinated.

“Influenza is a serious disease,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. “Vaccination is, by far, the best tool we have to protect ourselves against flu.”

The influenza season is off to an early start, with widespread flu activity in Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and South Carolina, according to Dec. 1 data from the CDC.

The last time the flu season began this early was in 2003-04, Dr. Frieden said. During that time, influenza A(H3N2) was the predominant flu strain. Data show that strain also is the one most commonly seen this season.

“While flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases, as well as the specific strains we’re seeing, suggest that this could be a bad flu year,” Dr. Frieden said.

Flu vaccine is widely available, with about 125.3 million doses distributed as of Nov. 30.

“I’ve been vaccinated, my family has been vaccinated, and I encourage everyone over the age of 6 months to get vaccinated,” Dr. Frieden said.

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