Make sure that everyone in your office is vaccinated against influenza

Good news or bad news first?

Since you can’t answer me, I’ll choose for you.

Here’s the good news first. A National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) survey unveiled recently at NFID’s annual influenza and pneumococcal news conference reported that more than 90% of physicians will get (or have already gotten) the influenza vaccine this year.

If you’re a frequent reader, you know my penchant for chiding health care workers about their professional responsibility to get vaccinated annually. Although this finding has restored my faith in my physician colleagues, it brings us to the bad news: Non-physicians must be avoiding the vaccine in droves because vaccination rates from surveys that group physicians together with other health care personnel are usually half what was reported (or even less).

Some surveys include institutional-based clinical staff while others are more encompassing, including, for instance, firefighters and EMTs. Others go even further, including anyone who self-identifies working in a health care occupation or setting.

I like the last one best because everyone who comes in with patients needs to be vaccinated. And if you know me, you know I mean everybody. Non-clinical staff (eg, custodians, food service workers, TV sales people) are in and out of patient rooms several times a day — they can get and spread influenza just as I can if they are not immunized.

The good news shows that an overwhelming majority of physicians are getting vaccinated and I am extremely proud of my colleagues!

But we physicians also have to be leaders. It is time to get out there and let others know that we take our promise to “first, do no harm” seriously and we expect the professionals around us to do the same.

Make sure that everyone in your office is vaccinated and that the hospitals in which you practice have a vigorous all-inclusive influenza vaccination program.

William Schaffner is Professor and Chair, Department of Preventive Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and blogs at Infectious Disease News.

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