DURHAM – Duke University Health Systems held its second annual flu vaccination blitz Wednesday, hoping to vaccinate 10,000 health-care workers at both its hospitals as a way to protect both staff and patients, whose weakened immune systems make them especially susceptible to infection.
Last year, Duke vaccinated 8,000 of its workers in a 24-hour blitz, helping it to reach an 80 percent vaccination rate among its 30,000 employees. This year, the hospital hopes to vaccinate the same number of its own employees and add 2,000 from other area hospitals, clinics and health departments. Some clinics couldn’t participate because they used up their vaccine on patients so Duke officials weren’t sure 10,000 workers will get vaccinated communitywide Wednesday.
The blitz serves several needs, said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke. The vaccinations protect staff and patients from the flu and help reduce sick time for staff, meaning patients are safer. It also serves as a test of Duke’s ability to handle a mass vaccination if an outbreak of a disease occurred.
“We have a responsibility toward the safety of our own staff and employees,” Wolfe said. Janitors and research staff might have contact with patients directly, and certainly do second-hand.
Duke set up one stationary vaccine station near the front entrance of the hospital and had nine mobile carts stopping in places such in front of the cafeteria, in front of elevators or at conference rooms where doctors and nurses gather. In addition, staffers vaccinated each other on wards.
As a program coordinator in anesthesiology, Cheryl Stetson rarely works with patients. But she works with doctors who do see patients and wants to keep herself and patients healthy.
“In the past, I was mainly (getting a vaccination) to protect myself,” she said. “Now that I’ve been here 10 years, I understand the importance of protecting others.”
Janet Stolp, a nurse in Duke’s employee wellness program, was on the giving end of the vaccinations Wednesday. Hospital employees rarely have to be convinced to get a vaccination, she said.
“Why bring more sickness into a hospital?” she asked. “The flu vaccine is one of the best things we can do to make the environment safe for patients.”
Dr. David Rizzieri, who works with adult bone marrow transplant patients, unbuttoned his dress shirt and got down to a white T-shirt so he could get a vaccination in a hallway. “It takes me 30 seconds on my way to a meeting to get this done,” he said, tucking his shirt back into his pants.
He said he feels “an extra degree of obligation and responsibility” to be vaccinated because his patients, who being treated for leukemia and lymphoma, are already weaker than the average person.
It’s impossible to predict whether this flu season in North Carolina will be like last year’s, which was mild, or the year before, which was severe, said Dr. Zack Morris, a medical epidemiologist in the state Department of Health and Human Services. This year’s shot will have three strains of vaccination, two of which are different from last year. That formula is based on what’s occurring in other parts of the world, he said.
“The truth is, we never know what kind of flu season it will be,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated. The vaccination takes about two weeks to take full effect.