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Free Vaccine Programs for Families of Infants May Protect from Influenza and Pertussis

Free vaccine programs for families of infants and high-risk children are not widely used, but may offer an effective approach to protecting them from influenza and pertussis, according to an article published in the November issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.
A team led by researchers from Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital explored the adoption of free vaccine programs in U.S. children’s hospitals by collecting and analyzing survey responses from 53 children’s hospitals across the country. Only 22 of 53 (41.5 percent) reported offering some kind of free vaccine program for family members of infants and children. 

Called “cocooning,” immunizing caregivers and family members of infants and high-risk children against influenza and pertussis is a strategy endorsed by the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

“As children’s hospitals strive to ‘raise the bar’ when delivering comprehensive, family-centered care, we propose that cocooning should be integrated into the high-risk child’s treatment and prevention plan,” state the authors. “Each encounter is an opportunity to provide selected vaccines to the close contacts who accompany the child. Offering vaccine at no cost further increases accessibility.”

The authors share their own institutions’ experiences in implementing free vaccine programs as examples for other hospitals that may wish to start their own free vaccine clinics in the future:

Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC), Aurora, Colo.

Beginning in 2004, CHC’s Epidemiology and Infection Prevention and Control Department secured annual funding (up to $47,000/year) from the hospital’s Association of Volunteers program, which provides 3,300+ influenza vaccines annually to all close contacts of pediatric inpatients and ambulatory patients. In 2009, a centrally located vaccine clinic was established, and is managed by trained staff.

Children’s Medical Center (CMC), Dallas

CMC’s “Influenza Vaccine for Contacts Program” began in 2002. While its first year only targeted oncology patients, in the following years it was expanded to cover all family contacts six months of age and older in both ambulatory clinics and inpatient units, and secured $35,000 annually from a private foundation. It currently administers 6,700-plus free influenza vaccines per year.  In 2007, a centralized free vaccine clinic was established, open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays for a four-week period each year.

Doernbecher Children’s Hospital (DCH), Portland, Ore.

In 2010, DCH’s hospital epidemiologist formed a workgroup and secured $15,000 annually from their hospital’s charitable foundation to establish a free clinic to offer both influenza and tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccines to all adult close contacts of established patients. In its first year, their clinic administered 262 influenza vaccines and 218 Tdap vaccines.

Reference: Guzman-Cottrill JA, et al. Free vaccine programs to cocoon high-risk infants and children against influenza and pertussis. American Journal of Infection Control. Vol. 40, No. 9. November 2012.

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