Saint Peters Vaccinates Employees Against Whooping Cough; Program to be National Model

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- In response to the resurgence of pertussis in the United States and last years Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensure of a pertussis booster for adolescents and adults, Saint Peters UniversityHospital is providing this new vaccine to all employees free of charge. Pertussis, or whooping cough as it is commonly known, is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system, which is potentially fatal for infants under six months. In the past three years, reported cases of whooping cough in the U.S. exceeded 25,000, as compared to 1,000 to 2,000 in previous decades.

The employee vaccination program, Pertussis Immunization of Healthcare Workers at Saint Peters, officially began in January 2007. Because vaccination is voluntary, the program also encompasses an internal awareness campaign, which includes lectures, hospital-wide distribution of information about the disease and vaccine, and prize drawings for staff who participate. The programs goal is to vaccinate 80 percent of hospital employees. So far, about 30 percent have been immunized. Sanofi pasteur, the vaccine division of sanofi-aventis group, granted Saint Peters UniversityHospital $15,000 to help monitor the success of the program, which may become a national model for immunizing healthcare workers.

Saint Peters is the only hospital in the country to receive grant monies from sanofi pasteur for this effort. We have agreed to document, analyze and publish the Pertussis Program so that it may act as a national model and aid other healthcare institutions to effectively organize and implement a vaccination program for their own employees, explained Dr. Robert Tolan, chief of the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at The Childrens Hospital at Saint Peters University Hospital. In February 2006, the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) formally recommended that all hospitals nationwide actively pursue vaccination of employees who have direct patient contact including physicians, nurses, aides, therapists, technicians and social workers.

Employees who contract whooping cough can infect vulnerable patients, such as adolescents or adults with decreased protective immunity, as well as infants who are too young to have been fully immunized against the disease. Infected employees are also a threat to their families and community contacts, said Dr. Tolan.

According to the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, a cost-benefit analysis published in 2004 concluded that immunization of healthcare workers would prevent as many as 100,000 cases of pertussis each decade and save as much as $151 million in direct and indirect costs related to the disease.

Sanofi pasteur is the manufacturer of Adacel vaccine, the first and only FDA-approved and ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices)-recommended tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine licensed for those aged 11 to 64 years.

Pertussis, or whooping cough as it is commonly known, is a highly contagious infection of the respiratory system, which is potentially fatal for infants under six months. Whooping cough is characterized by severe coughing spells that may end in a whooping sound, particularly in older children.

The disease has an average incubation period of seven to 10 days, and those infected are still contagious two weeks after the cough begins. Whooping cough spreads from person to person, mostly through coughs or sneezes.

Early signs and symptoms are similar to a common cold including runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. These symptoms usually last two weeks followed by two to four weeks of severe coughing and another several weeks to months of a gradually improving cough. Antibiotics are used to shorten the duration of contagiousness. Complications include pneumonia, ear infection, dehydration, rib fractures, bleeding in the brain and eyes, seizures and death. Hospitalization is often necessary for infected infants.

Over the last 50 years, pertussis vaccine has been successful in reducing the incidence of the disease to 1,000 to 2,000 cases a year in the U.S and by more than 90 percent in those countries where it has been readily available. In the past three years, however, reported cases of whooping cough in the U.S. exceeded 25,000. The resurgence of the disease has led healthcare professionals to realize that immunity wears off five to 10 years after a childs last vaccination.

Routinely, a diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccine, referred to as DTaP, has been administered to children in five separate doses before their 7th birthday. The AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics recently recommended that adolescents aged 11 to 12 years receive the Tdap booster to protect against whooping cough and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that adults receive a Tdap booster every 10 years to maintain immunity. Boostrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is licensed for those aged 10-18 while sanofi pasteurs Adacel vaccine is the only Tdap vaccine currently licensed for adults (those aged 11-64).

Source: Saint Peters University Hospital

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