Big push to vaccinate health care workers

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Health officials are making a big push this year to get most health care workers vaccinated against the flu this coming season.

Surprisingly, only 63.5 percent of those workers nationwide -- fewer than two-thirds -- were vaccinated against flu last season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If more health care workers got the shots, the elderly and the chronically ill would be less at risk, according to the Allegheny County Health Department, which is joining with the Allegheny County Immunization Coalition to urge more health care workers at local hospitals to get vaccinated.

When health care workers get the flu, at-risk patients suffer from exposure to the virus when the workers are on the job and get less attention when they stay home sick, said Ron Voorhees, the county's acting health director.

Even health care workers who don't come in contact with at-risk patients can pose a risk to them,because they can transmit the virus to health care workers who do, Dr. Voorhees said.

Why did more than a third of health care workers nationwide fail to get flu shots last year?

Perhaps it's because they haven't got the flu in years past, and they feel lucky, said Guillermo Cole, public information officer for the Health Department. If so, "they're pressing their luck," he said. "The longer you go without contracting the flu, the more likely you are to get it."

And perhaps some health workers forget that you need to get a flu vaccination every year, Mr. Cole said.

"This isn't like other vaccines," he said. "You need to get a flu shot each year because the vaccine changes each year to combat changes in the flu virus."

Participating hospitals will provide the vaccinations free to employees. Those who choose to get vaccinated will have the opportunity to win gift cards provided by the Allegheny County Immunization Coalition. The goal of the campaign is to get 90 percent of health care workers at the 18 acute care hospitals in the area immunized.

health

Jack Kelly: jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.


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