Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Flu Vaccine Debate Continues

The anti-vaccine movement has been around as long as vaccines. While most people associate the anti-vaccine movement with the linking of vaccines to autism, this wasn’t the first protest of vaccines.

In the 1800s, countries began mandating smallpox vaccines for children. While many rushed to vaccinate their children, substantial numbers of people also refused to be vaccinated.  After a huge protest in Leicester, England in 1885 the Vaccination Act of 1898 gave parents the choice to conscientiously object to vaccines.

Evidence shows that vaccine laws increase the number of people that are vaccinated and decreases the rate of disease. After the measles outbreak in Wales, more people are arguing for mandatory vaccination. Others argue that in countries where vaccination rates are relatively high, educating and gently persuading parents to vaccinate their children may be a better approach.

Researchers from the UC Davis Health System, the Monroe County New York Department of Public Health, the University of Rochester Medical Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that elementary schools offering flu vaccination programs can increase the vaccination rate.

A 13.2 percent increase in vaccination rates was found in children who had access to school-located vaccination clinics.  Byung-Kwang Yoo of UC Davis was lead author of the study and noted, “Primary care practices may not have the capacity to vaccinate all U.S. children against seasonal influenza. If the CDC’s recommendations were followed, primary care offices would have to accommodate 42 million more patient visits during the five-month window for each flu season. Our goal is to find ways to ensure that the best prevention is as accessible as possible.”

Oregon State University conducted a study that found children in school and young adults do most of the flu transmission. Researchers noted there is a huge value in vaccinating more children and young adults for the flu by limiting the cycle of transmission. They also recommended vaccinating children at school.

In 2009, the Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois adopted mandatory influenza (flu) vaccination as a condition of employment. A multidisciplinary task force created the policy and presented their results at the 40th Annual Conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology in June. In addition to the new policy, educational materials like videos were also created for hospital staff and volunteers on the importance of vaccination.

Dr. Jorge Parada is a professor of medicine at Loyola and author of the study and has been working with the policy since 2008. “Near-universal flu immunization is achievable and sustainable with a mandatory vaccination policy,” Dr. Parada said. “Our employees and associates now understand that this is the way we do business. Just as construction workers must wear steel-toed boots and hard hats on job sites, healthcare workers should get a flu shot to work in a hospital. We believe that patient and staff safety have been enhanced as a result.”

Loyola was one of the first hospitals in the nation to adopt the mandatory flu shot policy and other hospitals have followed. Over 65 hospitals in North Carolina require doctors, nurses and vendors to be vaccinated for the flu. The vaccine debate will likely continue, and Vaccine Watch urges those with concerns to seek education from their primary care physician.

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