ALEXANDRIA, VA -- The top professional society of infectious diseases experts is insisting that all physicians, nurses, and other health workers caring for patients be vaccinated against influenza each year or decline in writing. It is the strongest call yet to plug a critical weakness in the nation's flu preparations.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) is issuing the call to Congress and the Administration as part of a new set of recommendations to better prepare the nation and the world for an inevitable influenza pandemic, as well to improve responses to the perennial threat of seasonal influenza.
The document is one of the most complete assessments to date on the major outstanding issues surrounding flu preparations. IDSA intends its principles to complement Congress' and the Administration's efforts in enacting the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act in December 2006. IDSA's principles support many of the concepts found in the new law, but provide additional direction and a level of specificity not found in the Act.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 226,000 people are hospitalized with influenza and 36,000 people die from it every year in the United States alone. Even a "mild" influenza pandemic is expected to kill 100,000 to 250,000 Americans, and a severe pandemic could kill 2 million.
Health care workers caring for sick patients are routinely exposed to influenza virus and often spread it around. Yet each year fewer than two in five health care workers get a flu shot.
"It's our professional duty to first do no harm," said Andrew T. Pavia, MD, chair of IDSA's National and Global Public Health Committee. "Voluntary systems haven't brought immunization rates up far enough. For the sake of our patients, all health care workers must get a flu shot every year or they must be required to opt out in writing."