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flu vaccines

Some counties requiring health workers to get flu vaccine

In an effort to prevent health care workers from spreading the flu to patients this winter, county health officials are mandating that medical staff around the Bay Area receive vaccinations or wear a surgical mask on the job.

Health officials say flu vaccination rates among health care workers are dangerously low – 60 percent [PDF] of those working in California hospitals received the vaccine in the 2010-11 flu season, according to the most recent data available from the California Department of Public Health.

Officials hope the requirements will help prevent the spread of the virus to patients most vulnerable to its life-threatening complications, particularly the elderly, whose weakening immune systems may render the flu vaccine less effective.

However, county health officers say they have few resources to enforce the new orders, leaving it up to the discretion of hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers and other health care facilities to make sure their staffs are vaccinated.

Nationally, this year’s flu season has started early and may be shaping up to be a bad one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those locally requiring vaccination or masks this year are health officials in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties. Scattered counties around the state are doing the same.


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State falls six months behind reporting on infection control

The state department that is more than six months late in publicly reporting about health worker flu vaccines has also failed to publicly report other hospital infection-related data called for in a 2006 law.

A report issued by Consumers Union last week [PDF] points out that the state Department of Public Health was mandated to report on flu vaccines given to hospital workers by March of this year, but has not.

The same law calls for such disclosure about hospital catheter-insertion practices and their track record on surgical infection control efforts.

Department spokesman Ralph Montano said the state is evaluating the best way to report the catheter-insertion data, which examines hospital efforts to reduce infections when central lines are put in patients in intensive care units.

Montano said the surgical infection data is already reported at the Medicare Hospital Compare website.

Meanwhile, Department of Public Health officials are compiling their own report on flu vaccinations among hospital workers in the wake of a critical probe by the consumer advocacy group.

Consumers Union relied on data the state supplied in June to reach the conclusion that about half of California hospital workers were vaccinated [PDF], based on data for about 70 percent of the state’s hospitals. The group filed a Public Records Act request for the information.


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