Nurses Continue Emphasis on Immunizations
Dec 07, 2011

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 63% of healthcare workers received a seasonal influenza vaccine as of the beginning of November.  While this is a 7% increase over the number vaccinated by the same time last year, there is still significant room for improvement.
Healthcare workers include a wide variety of professions, such as nurses, dentists, lab technicians, OB/GYNs and many others.  These professionals have a great deal of contact with patients, and therefore are exposed to illness on a regular basis, which is why you might suspect they would want to be up-to-date on their vaccines.  However, we must also recognize the risks these workers pose to others if they themselves are infected.  It is possible for workers to be contagious before they realize they are ill.  During that time it is also possible that they could unknowingly spreading illnesses, such as influenza, to vulnerable patients.
Take, for instance, the example of a newborn child.  As a parent, your most important concern is for the well-being of your baby.   That’s why you may insist that friends and family members who want to visit your child, both in the hospital and at home, are immunized.  However, how would you feel if you discovered that almost 40% of the people providing care for your child are not immunized against seasonal flu?
As parents and patients we often assume that those caring for us and our loved ones are doing everything possible to protect us, and that includes getting immunized.  While we are seeing encouraging statistics to suggest that they are, this is not a universal requirement in the healthcare industry and so there is still work to do to help improve healthcare worker vaccination rates.
Since nurses play a critical role as vaccinators, educators and role models for their patients, it’s important to highlight the efforts being made by the American Nurses Association (ANA) to help educate nurses on the importance of immunizations.  Not only do they offer a free Continuing Education (CE) course entitled Bringing Immunity to Every Community, they are doing their part to engage on the issue of influenza vaccination with their Unite to Fight the Flu! campaign.  Today, they’ve even planned a clever way to offer free CE credits with a live Twitter chat.     
To join today’s twitter chat from 12:30-1p.m. EST,  all one has to do is go to http://tweetchat.com/room/anachat or use the hashtag #anachat on Twitter.  The discussion will focus on facts about influenza, with a special emphasis made to dispel the myths about the flu vaccine.  This is a free event and both ANA members and non-members are encouraged to join. 
Nurses can also Unite To Fight the Flu! by using the resource toolkit that the ANA has developed .  This is designed to assist nurses in any role or setting with their influenza vaccination and outreach efforts. There is even a pledge that nurses can take that says they recognize that vaccines are safe and effective, and vow, as champions of immunizations, that they will do their best to protect their patients, as well as their community, by being up-to-date on their immunizations.   
Nurses are also encouraged to take advantage of the ANA’s  Bringing Immunity to Every Community initiative. This program, developed by ANA and Every Child by Two (ECBT), is an innovative webcast designed to help nurses learn about vaccine safety and patient communication. Combining a nurse-panel presentation with patient-nurse video vignettes, this course offers practical knowledge and skills to increase immunization competency to those professionals who are most often the administrators of immunizations.
In a previous interview with Mary Beth Koslap-Petraco, DNP, PNP-BC, CPNP, who was on the Advisory Panel for this initiative, I asked her to elaborate on the nurse’s role in immunization services. She explains,

 “I have heard others say “Nurses own immunizations”. That’s because nurses are able to take the time to teach our patients and their families about immunizations and vaccine preventable diseases. I believe nurses are the driving force behind immunization programs and I want to share that message with nurses and give them the tools they need to keep promoting and administering vaccines.

It’s undeniable that nurses have a critical and influential connection with patients.  The way in which they handle immunization questions and concerns with their patients is often a deciding factor as to whether patients get immunized.  Recently, in a conversation with Dr. William Shaffner, he refered to a study which suggests that a patient is twice as likely to get immunized if a doctor recommends a vaccine.  But today I ask this; how much more likely are patients to get vaccinated, or not, based on the information they receive from their nurse?
In honor of National Influenza Vaccination Week, please take a moment to thank a nurse, as well as all other healthcare workers, for making the health of others a priority in their profession.    I, for one, am glad that they endure what they do to help myself and my loved ones.  Even if that involves jabbing me with a needle!


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