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Dome - A shot of reality

September 2011

A shot of reality

Date: September 16, 2011

Nurse manager Anita Reedy (left) and oncologist Hetty Carraway (right) care for immune-suppressed patients, which is ample reason to get the flu vaccine.
Nurse manager Anita Reedy (left) and oncologist Hetty Carraway (right) care for immune-suppressed patients, which is ample reason to get the flu vaccine.

Oncologist Hetty Carraway and nurse manager Anita Reedy work on Weinberg 5C, one of the adult leukemia units, so they know what it’s like to care for patients with immune systems so compromised that the flu vaccine won’t work. “Our patients are the number-one reason we encourage everyone on the unit to get a flu shot each year,” says Carraway.

“As health care providers, we’re obligated to do what we can to protect our patients from the very illnesses that we give care for,” says Reedy.

It’s in that spirit of safeguarding patients—as well as employees and students—that a mandatory flu vaccination policy is being implemented across Johns Hopkins Medicine (except for at All Children’s Hospital). This is in line with a national movement to increase immunization rates amongst health care workers, explains Edward Bernacki, executive director of health, safety and environment for the health system and the university. “Employees come into work with a little sniffle and do not always realize they may have the flu,” he says. “It’s important first and foremost for our patients, but also for our families, co-workers and ourselves.”

Influenza vaccination of health care providers decreases patient mortality by 40 to 50 percent. That’s why the enterprise is looking for 100 percent compliance and why the policy applies to every organization within Hopkins Medicine—including the schools of medicine, nursing and public health.

 Last fiscal year, Occupational Health Services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital saw about 125 employees with flu-like symptoms.

Employees can decline only for qualified religious or medical reasons. Suburban Hospital will discharge employees for not taking the vaccine. However, for this flu season, the rest of Hopkins will not terminate employees for refusing to partake. Instead, they’ll be required to wear a mask within six feet of any patient and when entering a patient room during the flu season, as identified by Johns Hopkins Health System Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Control (HEIC). They’ll also receive education about the flu vaccine. If one chooses to decline the vaccine again next flu season, that employee will be terminated.

Information about flu vaccine clinics will be forthcoming from your organization.

“The goal,” says Bernacki, “is to immunize all of our employees so there is the lowest possible risk of getting the flu. It’s just the right thing to do.

—Katie Kuehn


This year, there’s a new flu shot for people 65 and over—Fluzone High Dose. Bernacki explains that the older you get, the more antibody production wanes. This new shot has significantly more of the virus so that it stimulates higher antibody production and a better response to the flu in older people.