Public Release:  Health system achieves high flu vaccination rates by mandating masking

Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America

CHICAGO (June 15, 2011) - Geisinger Health System vaccinated more than 92% of all employees against influenza this season, with a modification of a mandatory program. On average, fewer than half of all healthcare workers receive flu vaccinations.

In an article published in July's Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, Dr. Lisa Esolen demonstrated the effectiveness of Geisinger's influenza vaccination that helped achieve high rates of vaccine compliance for two consecutive years. This past season, 2010-2011, Geisinger had vaccinated 95% of clinical employees and 92% of all employees by mid-December. Since hospitals continue to release vaccine until the end of March, final vaccination rates were not known at that the time of this publication.

"Influenza vaccination rates among hospital employees has received extensive attention in recent years," said Lisa Esolen, MD, Systems Director, Infection Control Geisinger Health System "Healthcare workers are critical to limiting the spread of influenza since they are exposed to numerous sick patients and can readily spread the infection from patient to patient."

To increase vaccination rates among staff, some hospitals have embraced a mandatory approach - get vaccinated or lose your job. However, Geisinger Health System chose a slightly different approach. The 14,000-employee system decided to allow staff members to opt out of receiving the flu vaccine for ethical or medical reasons, but required that those who did opt out would need to wear a facemask for the entire flu season, extending from November 1 to March 31. All vaccinated employees were known by a campaign sticker placed on their identification badge - no sticker meant the employee needed to wear a mask whenever they were within five or six feet of any other person throughout the entire day.

"We're proud of the success we had and the team building it inspired, encouraging each unit to act as a team to achieve full vaccination." said Dr. Esolen.

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Lisa M. Esolen, Kimberly L. Kilheeney, Richard E. Merkle and Albert Bothe, "An Alternate Approach to Improving Healthcare Worker Influenza Vaccination Rates." Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 32:7 (July 2011), pp. 703-705

Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology provides original, peer-reviewed scientific articles for anyone involved with an infection control or epidemiology program in a hospital or healthcare facility. Written by infection control practitioners and epidemiologists and guided by an editorial board composed of the nation's leaders in the field, ICHE provides a critical forum for this vital information. The journal is published by the University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

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