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Healthcare immunization: Protecting coworkers and the community


Health care professionals are at high risk for exposure to vaccine-preventable diseases and infections. Safeguard yourself, your patients, and your family members. Make sure you and your patients are up to date with recommended vaccines.

What is the difference between a vaccine and an immunization?

A vaccine is an inactive pathogen that stimulates an immune response and is administered to prevent disease. In addition, it lessens the effects of the disease if exposed. A vaccine protects the immunized individual, with the added benefit of protecting the community. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an immunization is the process by which an individual is made immune or resistant to a preventable infectious disease. Vaccines are developed using scientific underpinnings, such as input from epidemiology, immunology, infectious diseases, public health, preventative medicine, and virology.

Why immunize?

Most vaccine-preventable diseases are spread from person-to-person through droplets caused by sneezing or coughing, and they can be transmitted by touching a contaminated surface and then touching the mouth or nose. In the last 10 years there have been outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, pertussis, and haemophilus influenzae type B. These findings are disturbing because the WHO reported that measles was eliminated in the United States more than 10 years ago. The resurgence of highly contagious diseases has been attributed to the importation of the disease from various parts of the world where the disease is prevalent.

Jane Seward, MMBS, MPH, the deputy director, Division of Viral Diseases for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), commented that because of contact with patients and/or infectious material, healthcare providers are at higher risk for exposure and potential transmission of vaccine-preventable diseases. Healthcare providers are especially at risk for haemophilus influenzae B. If they become infected, they place patients at risk for developing severe and complicated influenza. Patricia Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP, director of Infectious Disease and Immunology at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, concluded that evidence supports healthcare provider immunity as an effective means to protect the unvaccinated and vulnerable population against vaccine-preventable diseases. Even though the evidence reinforces vaccine safety and effectiveness, some healthcare providers chose not to be immunized.

Vaccine administration has been shown to:

  • decrease the spread of disease.
  • preserve a healthy workforce.
  • promote the safety of the healthcare provider and the community.
  • reduce the likelihood of an outbreak of a communicable disease within the healthcare organization.

Challenges exist in in the administration of immunizations, such as public confusion, lack of trust of pharmaceutical companies, injection site pain, and uncovered vaccination costs. In addition, providers and consumers receive conflicting information in a variety of formats, such as social media, the Internet, professional journals, and even trusted healthcare providers. Although scientific evidence repeatedly has shown that vaccines are safe and prevent diseases, decades of research regarding the safety of vaccination have not discouraged anti-vaccine activists. According to Noni MacDonald, MD, a professor of Pediatrics at Dalhousie University in Canada, healthcare providers should listen to concerns and stay up to date on current scientific evidence that supports vaccination to accurately educate peers, patients, and the community.

As a trusted patient advocate:

  • Be truthful when answering questions.
  • Challenge myths and collaborate with other healthcare professionals, schools, hospitals, community centers, workplaces, government, academia, and public health agencies to dispel vaccination myths.
  • Discuss positive and negative effects of vaccinations.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) supports the CDC and the WHO in encouraging health care workers to become immunized to protect themselves and the community.

Additional Resources:

2014-2015 Flu Season: www.cdc.gov./flu/about/season
Immunization Action Coalition: www.immunize.org
Bringing Immunity to Every Community: www.ANAimmunize.org
CDC Immunization Schedules: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/
National Foundation of Infectious Diseases: www.nfid.org
The Guide to Community Preventive Services: www.thecommunityguide.org

Marie-Elena Barry is a consultant to the American Nurses Association.

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