The time is approaching for seasonal flu shots. In the US, uptake of flu vaccine on an annual basis remains disappointing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only 42 percent of adults and 59 percent of kids were immunized during the last flu season. (I always remember the last time I missed my shot, in 1976 when I was an intern, and got influenza A while assigned to a Department of Veterans Affairs medical ward. I was afraid I was not going to die.) The best thing I ever did in health care was to push for – and finally see – implementation of mandatory flu immunization in the hospital where I worked for 30 years. This came after it became clear that rational, evidence-based appeals to patient and personal safety were met with unacceptable vaccine uptake.
If you take seriously our rhetoric that the blood community is a critical healthcare infrastructure, you have the opportunity, and really a moral responsibility, to protect your donors, your co-workers, your family, and yourself from the flu. Getting vaccinated ensures that we will all be there to do our work, even during a bad flu season. A center’s ability to supply critical blood products and clinical services during flu season is dependent upon your good health, and overwhelmingly the best and safest protection from influenza is immunization.
Be sure your center offers the flu vaccine and makes it available in a user-friendly manner to the staff. Ideally, you should be bringing the vaccine to their desks, benches, donor rooms, and mobile coaches – to minimize disruption of blood center staff’s busy schedules – often used as an excuse not be vaccinated (sort of like “the dog ate my homework”). If you cannot get more than 90 percent of your staff to volunteer, you might want to consider more “creative” approaches to encourage your staff to be vaccinated. By the way, America’s Blood Centers’ staff are incentivized to be vaccinated.
While you’re at it, think about immunizing your donors. At my old center, we offered the vaccine to donors, because keeping them healthy was further protection of the blood supply. What better way is there to demonstrate your commitment to the well-being of your most important resource? What could you possibly offer that would impact the commitment of your donor base to the responsibility we share with them to provide a safe and adequate blood supply?
Louis Katz, MD, Chief Medical Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org