NFID Applauds New JCAHO Standard as an Important Step to Improve Influenza Vaccination of Healthcare Workers

BETHESDA, Md. -- The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) applauds the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) for announcing its new infection control policy that requires accredited organizations to offer influenza vaccination to staff, including volunteers and licensed practitioners with close patient contact. JCAHO's standard aligns with NFID's ongoing efforts to encourage healthcare institutions to implement policies and programs to increase vaccination rates among health care workers.

"This is an important first step toward improving influenza vaccination rates within the health care community, which will enhance the health and safety of patients in their care and healthcare workers themselves," said William Schaffner, MD, NFID vice president and professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "We hope in the future this standard will be expanded to encompass various strategies to increase healthcare worker vaccine uptake, such as signed declination."

JCAHO's standard, set to take effect beginning Jan. 1, 2007, aims to establish an annual influenza vaccination program and improve access to vaccinations on-site. The standard applies to its Critical Access Hospital, Hospital and Long Term Care accreditation programs.

The policy was established in response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)s recommendation to improve historically low influenza immunization rates among health care workers in the U.S. Physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals play an important role in preventing the spread of influenza by seeking immunization. Yet, despite long-standing recommendations, vaccination rates of health care providers remain alarmingly low -- under 40 percent overall.

"Research shows healthcare workers infected with influenza can transmit the virus to seriously ill patients in their care, many of whom may be at high risk for complications from this serious respiratory illness," said Schaffner. "Influenza and its complications can cause prolonged hospitalization, admission to the intensive care unit and even death."

The NFID has spearheaded efforts to encourage healthcare workers to receive an annual influenza immunization and suggest that healthcare institutions implement policy and programs to improve vaccination rates. This included a comprehensive Call to Action initiative launched in 2003, supported by more than 20 of the nation's leading medical groups, including JCAHO. These organizations agreed annual influenza vaccination among healthcare workers is an important goal for improved public health and patient safety.

In addition, the NFID published a comprehensive report, Improving Influenza Vaccination Rates in Health Care Workers: Strategies to Increase Protection for Workers and Patients, which outlined the serious implications low influenza immunization rates have on patient safety, and provided strategies to address the issue. NFID's efforts brought the issue to the attention of policymakers and fueled discussion on the issue within the healthcare community.

Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases