Health beat: Who's refusing those flu shots?

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 1, 2011 - 5:01 PM

Every fall, the state Health Department tries to encourage Minnesotans to get their flu shots.

So it's a little embarrassing, officials admit, to see how many doctors, nurses and other health workers ignore that advice.

In 2009 a state survey found that nearly 30 percent of health workers either refused, or simply didn't bother, to get a flu vaccine.

Now the state is trying to change that by encouraging a little healthy competition among hospitals and nursing homes.

The FluSafe program tracks how many employees get their flu shots, by facility, and publishes the names of hospitals and nursing homes with vaccine rates of 70 percent or higher.

Last year, 137 facilities participated, and 80 percent made the cut (see www.startribune.com/a854.) Of those, 26 had vaccination rates of 90 percent or higher. This year more than 200 hospitals and nursing homes have signed up. "There's definitely increased interest this year," said Jennifer Heath, the FluSafe coordinator.

The program grew out of concern that health workers can spread the flu to patients, who may be at risk for severe complications. This is a way to encourage hospitals and nursing homes to make the vaccine a priority for employees, said Kris Ehresmann, head of the immunization program at the Health Department.

Why do they resist? The same reasons anyone else does, she said. Some are afraid of shots. "They'll give them, but they don't want to get them," Ehresmann said. Some think they can get the flu from the vaccine. Not possible, Ehresmann said, though the shot can cause achiness and discomfort "as part of your body's natural immune response."

There's also a common misconception, she said, that the flu is not serious. "Flu is the universal term for anything bad that comes upon you," she said. "You may be the best cardiac nurse in the world," she said, but when it comes to influenza, "you could be misinformed."

maura.lerner@startribune.com

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