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Sun 1 Apr 2007 12:39 PM

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US med body urges vaccination drive

America's top professional society of infectious diseases experts is insisting that all physicians, nurses, and other health workers caring for patients be vaccinated against influenza each year, or decline in writing.

America's top professional society of infectious diseases experts is insisting that all physicians, nurses, and other health workers caring for patients be vaccinated against influenza each year, or decline in writing. The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) is issuing the call to Congress and the US government as part of a new set of recommendations to better prepare the country and the world for an ‘inevitable' influenza pandemic, as well as to improve responses to the perennial threat of seasonal influenza.

IDSA says the move will support the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act that was passed in December 2006. IDSA's principles support many of the concepts found in the new law, but provide additional direction and a level of specificity it says is not found in the act.

"It's our professional duty to first do no harm," said Andrew T. Pavia, MD, chair of IDSA's National and Global Public Health Committee. "Voluntary systems haven't brought immunisation rates up far enough. For the sake of our patients, all health care workers must get a flu shot every year or they must be required to opt out in writing."

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 226,000 people are hospitalised with influenza and 36,000 people die from it every year in the US. Even a "mild" influenza pandemic is expected to kill 100,000 to 250,000 people in the US, and a severe pandemic could kill 2 million.

Health care workers caring for sick patients are routinely exposed to influenza virus and often spread it around. Yet each year fewer than two in five health care workers get a flu shot.

"Responding to the perennial threat of seasonal flu will help us prepare for an influenza pandemic, and vice versa," said Kathleen Maletic Neuzil, MD, chair of IDSA's Pandemic Influenza Task Force. She said, the yearly supply of influenza vaccine fluctuates widely because there are very few pharmaceutical companies interested in manufacturing it. A bigger and more stable market for vaccine would lure more companies into the field, improving the capacity to quickly develop a pandemic vaccine.

"Attention to pandemic flu is not what it was at this time last year, but pandemic flu is not last year's story," said Neuzil. "The threat has always been with us, and it will likely always be with us. If we hope to be ready the next time a killer virus emerges, we need a serious, sustained, long-term commitment."

IDSA has compiled 12 principles for action on pandemic and seasonal influenza. Recommendations include the establishment of a pandemic influenza vaccine master program; stockpiling of antibiotics and antivirals; and improving the environment for developing anti-flu products.

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