Medical Center takes proactive stance with mandatory influenza vaccinations in 2013
By Bruce Coleman
Dr. Rathel “Skip” Nolan is serious about protecting the health of patients at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
So serious, in fact, that the medical director of the Division of Infection Prevention is championing an effort to make sure all UMMC faculty and staff, and all students who come in contact with patients, receive an influenza vaccine annually.
“People get the flu and they think it’s the cold, so they come to work anyway,” said Nolan, professor of medicine. “But we take care of the sickest people in the state. The cold the health-care provider has could be a fatal influenza for these immunosuppressed patients.
“Health-care providers have an obligation to protect the patients against something they might give them.”
Medical Center administrators agree: starting in the fall of 2013, flu vaccinations will become a condition of employment and education for everyone at UMMC, with very few exceptions.
According to Nolan, influenza kills tens of thousands of people every year.
“Usually they’re diagnosed with something else – pneumonia or exacerbation of emphysema – but influenza is what actually tips them over from being sick to death,” he said. “That’s the major reason we’re doing this: because it protects patients.
“I think everybody has a moral obligation to protect the people they have been entrusted with.”
Nolan said he has heard virtually every excuse people use to justify avoiding the flu vaccination. Although he is sensitive to their concerns, Nolan said he has plenty of evidence to assuage any doubt.
• The vaccine gave me the flu or I got the vaccine but I got the flu anyway.
Nolan says it is impossible for the vaccine to make someone sick with the flu.
“It’s a killed preparation of the virus that can’t cause disease,” he said. “In the case of those who say they got the flu anyway, other illnesses can feel like the flu, but aren’t as contagious. Or they didn’t get vaccinated early enough to combat the flu.”
• I never get the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine.
According to Nolan, everybody gets the flu at least once every three-to-four years.
“It just may not be the full-blown flu syndrome, but they’re still
contagious,” he said.
• The flu vaccine contains mercury or is dangerous to receive.
Nolan said the vaccine no longer contains mercury – or any other substances that potentially could be harmful for the vast majority. “The vaccine is quite safe,” he said. “There’s a lot of distrust about the vaccine, but none of it has proven to be true. People may think the vaccine does a lot of harm, but when looked at critically and scientifically, the evidence is just not there. It’s safe and well-tolerated.”
• I’m afraid of needles.
“The one thing I tell people is that the worst thing about a shot is waiting for it to happen,” Nolan said. “After they get one, they usually say, ‘That’s all it was?’ Just the notion of someone jabbing them in the arm is worrisome for some folks, but it’s not a big deal when it’s being administered by an authorized medical professional.”
The Medical Center will offer the influenza vaccine free of charge. Faculty, staff and students with valid UMMC identification may obtain the vaccine at either of two flu “blitzes” during the fall or at the Student/Employee Health Office.
“We’re going to try to make it as easy as possible for everyone to receive the vaccine,” Nolan said. “When it comes to the health of our patients – and the health of our employees who care for them – we’re going to be proactive.”
For more information about the Medical Center’s upcoming flu vaccine campaign, call the Office of Student/Employee Health at 4-1185.
Armed for Battle
Flu vaccination participation rates at UMMC, which traditionally hover around the 40 percent mark, may get a shot in the arm next month.
A campus-wide poster campaign being launched in October seeks to increase awareness of the vaccine’s importance among faculty, staff and students – and to help them transition into the “mandatory” mindset as required by Medical Center administration next year.
Dr. Herman Taylor, principal investigator of the Jackson Heart Study, is featured on one of the posters. He said he agrees with the campaign’s concept that getting a flu vaccination is “the smart thing to do.”
“Death from the flu is more common among people with heart disease than among people with any other chronic condition,” said Taylor, professor of medicine. “Heart attacks, decompensation of heart failure, pneumonia and other complications all can be precipitated by influenza.
“Since flu in the heart patient can be deadly, vaccination to prevent it should be at the top of the health priority list, not only for the patients, but also the people who come into frequent contact with them, like family members and providers of care.”
That extends to students in the health-care setting as well, said Dr. Joey Granger, dean of the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences and a poster campaign participant.
“It is critical that all of our students take advantage of this opportunity,” said Granger, Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor of Physiology and Medicine and director of the Center for Excellence in Cardiovascular-Renal Research. “I fully support the flu vaccination campaign by UMMC.”
According to Janet Harris, interim chief executive officer of University Hospitals, the flu vaccination is essential for hospital personnel.
“Our staff come in contact with many people on a daily basis in the workplace,” said Harris, who also is featured on a campaign poster. “Protecting themselves from the flu by taking the flu vaccine is one thing that they can control.
“I take the vaccine every year and I encourage every employee to do the same.”
Taylor said health-care providers who get vaccinated are much less likely to put the people they care for at risk.
“These patients are vulnerable and have entrusted their health and well-being to us,” he said. “It’s absolutely imperative that we respond to that trust by taking every step we can to reduce their exposure to what could be a lethal virus.”