Flu vaccination rates hit their highest levels ever last year at the Brigham, with 90 percent of BWHC staff receiving the vaccine. But among the almost 3,000 BWHers in the research community, only 75 percent received got their flu shot last season. More than 740 attested that they had not received the vaccine here or elsewhere.

Elena Losina, PhD, MSC, co-director of BWH’s Orthopaedics and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research (OrACORe), was surprised to hear that a higher percentage of researchers had not received the flu vaccine last year.

“The flu vaccine is still quite efficacious even if it only protects against certain strains of the flu—there’s no harm in getting the vaccine, and it’s the easiest way to protect yourself and others,” said Losina. She says that getting the flu shot is an annual routine for her, and her group’s administrator also sends helpful reminders to the team about clinics and how to attest to receiving the vaccination.

Among all employees who declined to receive the vaccine for the 2015–2016 flu season, the most common reasons given during the attestation process were “don’t want/need, never get the flu” (37 percent) or that the “influenza vaccine can cause flu/made me sick in the past” (25 percent).

But both of these beliefs are common misconceptions about the flu, notes Deborah Yokoe, MD, MPH, an infectious disease expert, hospital epidemiologist, medical director of BWH Infection Prevention and Control, and member of the BWHC Flu Vaccination Task Force.

“A flu shot can’t give you the flu—it doesn’t contain any live viruses,” Yokoe said. “Even if you are generally super healthy, you can become miserably sick from the flu. In addition, even before you notice that you’re sick, you can pass the flu virus on to your co-workers, friends, family and our patients. Especially for people with chronic health conditions, influenza can be life-threatening. If for no other reason, you should be getting a flu shot every year so that you’re not spreading the flu unknowingly to others.”

The hospital is aiming improve patient safety by achieving an even higher vaccination rate among all staff for the 2016-2017 flu season. This season’s flu vaccination policy remains the same as last year: Staff members who do not get a flu shot by Dec. 1 for any reason, including medical or religious reasons, must wear a surgical or procedure mask in patient areas for the duration of the flu season. Patient areas include not only clinical spaces, but also waiting rooms and family rooms. Employees who receive an influenza vaccine from anywhere other than BWH Occupational Health Services will need to submit proof of immunization – detailed instructions can be found on BWH PikeNotes.

All About Patient Safety

Allen Kachalia, MD, chief quality officer at BWH, and others who are involved in the BWHC Flu Vaccination Task Force emphasize that getting the flu shot isn’t just about mitigating one’s own risk of getting sick. It’s also about protecting patient health and reducing the chance that a patient could acquire the flu during their hospital stay. With the opening of the Building for Transformative Medicine at 60 Fenwood Road, research and clinical spaces will come into even closer proximity, making it even more important that all members of the BWHC research community who can get vaccinated do so.

“It’s all about patient safety,” said Kachalia. “We are trying to do everything possible to minimize the risk of patients getting hospital-acquired flu, and now that many members of our research and clinical communities will be co-located in one building, it’s so important for the message to get out to all of our researchers about the importance of flu vaccination.”

Tanya Laidlaw, MD, director of Translational Research in the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, is both a researcher and clinician. As a physician and immunologist, Laidlaw treats immunosuppressed patients who are especially vulnerable to the flu. She knows exactly how dangerous it can be if they come in contact with someone who has the virus.

“When a non-clinician pictures someone getting the flu, they might think of a bad head cold that can last for a day or two, but for some of the patients I see, getting the flu can be devastating,” said Laidlaw.

In addition to getting the vaccine to help prevent infecting her patients, colleagues and family, Laidlaw says she also gets an annual flu shot for her own protection.

“Even though the vaccine doesn’t protect against all strains of the flu and is more effective some years than others, I want to do what I can to lower my risk and the risk of those around me,” she said.

Losina and her colleagues moved into the Building for Transformative Medicine on Oct. 1.

“We’ll be working in the same building where patients are being seen, and we will be close to the flu clinics being held on campus—there really are no excuses,” said Losina.

Occupational Health Services will offer flu vaccinations to all personnel at more than 12 BWHC sites. For a list of all clinics, please visit https://www.bwhpikenotes.org/.