Vaccinate health workers


POSTED: Sunday, October 04, 2009

Swine flu vaccine will become available in Hawaii this week and first responders should be the first in line for their doses. The state should strongly urge hospital health care workers to receive the vaccine themselves before giving the treatment to others.

Wanting to get swine flu shots should be a no-brainer, but a poll by Consumer Reports shows that only 35 percent of all parents surveyed said they would definitely have their children vaccinated. Nearly 70 percent said they “;wanted their children to build up their natural immunity,”; which is a flawed understanding of where antibodies are produced.

Many expressed fear that the vaccine was new and untested. Actually, said Dr. John Santa, the director of health ratings at Consumer Reports, it is neither new nor untested, having been grown in the same sterile eggs and purified in the same factories as the 100 million seasonal flu injections given each year.

Associations of health care workers should encourage their members to receive doses of the vaccine in the form of nasal spray this week, and the state Health Department should stress that those who have not received the vaccine not have contact with people to be vaccinated. New York is the only state requiring health workers to get vaccinated or lose their jobs.

At this point, the swine flu has resulted in far fewer deaths than those caused by seasonal flu. In Hawaii, 10 deaths have been confirmed as associated with swine flu; however, all but one of the adults and the single child who died had underlying medical problems, according to the Health Department.

The nonprofit Trust for America's Health has asserted that Hawaii is among 15 states that could run out of hospital beds around the time the outbreak peaks, assuming the outbreak to be comparable to the mild 1968 pandemic. It recommended that hospitals have “;surge”; plans but appears not to have made inquiries about what plans Hawaii has for such an influx of patients.

“;We do have an overall disaster preparedness plan in place in the state,”; George Greene, president and chief executive of the Healthcare Association of America, told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn. “;We have planned for most, if not all, possible contingencies and scenarios,”; ranging from earthquakes and hurricanes to flu pandemics.

Hawaii's health care providers appear to have taken all the steps needed to deal with a pandemic. The need at this point is for health care workers to line up for their vaccines so they can safely pass them on to those most at risk — pregnant women, children, young adults and other adults with other health problems.