For Immediate Release
April 5, 2011
Contact: Pam Udall
phone: (512) 370-1382
cell: (512) 413-6807
phone: (512) 370-1381
cell: (512) 656-7320
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The hospital should be a place where people go to get better, and physicians want to lessen the chance of patients picking up a flu bug or something worse while there.
That is why Texas Medical Association (TMA) physicians are voicing support for a bill that would call for health care workers in facilities like hospitals to be vaccinated against communicable diseases.
“Health care workers who are not immunized against influenza and other diseases may unknowingly spread these diseases to the patients in their care,” says Charles J. Lerner, MD, FSHEA, chair of TMA’s Committee on Infectious Diseases.
Dr. Lerner is speaking out in support of Senate Bill 1177 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), on behalf of TMA, the Texas Pediatric Society, and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. The bill is before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee next Tuesday for discussion.
The measure would require health care facilities’ employees and credentialed personnel such as physicians to be vaccinated against preventable infectious diseases. Proponents reason that health care workers treat sick patients every day: The workers are prime targets for contracting viruses from their patients and spreading them to other patients, family members, and the community at large. During the height of the 2009 H1NI pandemic, only two out of three health care workers were vaccinated against the illness.
“At least half of all health care workers with the flu do not recognize they are infected,” says Dr. Lerner. He adds that a patient with influenza is contagious for at least 24 hours prior to the onset of symptoms. “There are only two ways to protect patients from an infected health care worker. The simplest, least expensive, and wisest choice is for the health worker to get a flu shot.” The alternative is to use barrier precautions (gowns, gloves, and masks) when in contact with patients, Dr. Lerner said.
Under this bill, staff could decline a vaccine for health or reasons of conscience, but those employees must then take extra precautions like wearing masks when working around patients, and they can be barred from the facility during public health emergencies.
To encourage more health care workers to get their flu vaccination, last year TMA’s Be Wise – ImmunizeSM program launched an education campaign to remind health care workers about the vaccine’s benefits. The campaign reminds physicians, their staff, and colleagues to get the flu shot to protect themselves, their patients, and their families.
Dr. Lerner, works in a large hospital system, believes that vaccination of all health care workers is a cornerstone of a strong patient safety program.
“Vaccination is one of the most important parts of an infection control prevention program and perhaps one of the most important actions any of us can take to keep ourselves healthy and perhaps more importantly, to keep from making those around us sick,” he says.
TMA is the largest state medical society in the nation, representing more than 45,000 physician and medical student members. It is located in Austin and has 120 component county medical societies around the state. TMA's key objective since 1853 is to improve the health of all Texans. TMA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the association and raises funds to support the public health and science priority initiatives of TMA and the family of medicine.
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Be Wise — Immunize is a service mark of the Texas Medical Association.