Workers' children will get flu shots

The company that runs Medical College of Georgia Hospital is extending its flu shot coverage beyond its employees and physicians -- it is taking in the children.

On Wednesday, the executive committee of the board of directors of MCG Health Inc. heard about the new seasonal flu shot policy, which will be mandatory for roughly 3,200 employees and 700 medical staff except those exempted for medical or religious reasons, CEO Don Snell said. The shots, which will be free to employees, will also be free for dependent children. The move will cost the health system about $100,000, Mr. Snell said.

"It's a lot but when you think about it, with what we're facing here, it's probably a reasonable estimate," he said.

During a flu pandemic, typically about 40 percent of employees don't show up because many are probably home with sick children, Mr. Snell said. MCG is the coordinating hospital for regional efforts to address a pandemic, so "let's make sure that we have the optimal number of folks coming into work," he said. "That means vaccinating them and also their families."

Though the Georgia Hospital Association can't provide exact numbers of hospitals with similar policies, "I know many hospitals are assessing that and some are choosing to mandate vaccination," said Denise Flook, the group's coordinator of infection prevention and work force initiatives.

Doctors Hospital also has a mandatory flu shot policy for employees, with those who opt out required to wear masks during flu season.

One study in 2004 found that a hospital that got its vaccination rate up to 67 percent cut its cases of hospital-acquired influenza to zero.

"That's been shown in multiple studies that if we can get our health care workers vaccinated then the risk to our patients is less," Ms. Flook said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2006, only 42 percent of health care workers got a flu shot, but Ms. Flook said the rate for doctors and workers is actually 60 percent to 70 percent.

Aiken Regional Medical Centers mandates a flu shot but already has high compliance from employees getting their flu shot, over 80 percent, said spokeswoman Melissa Summer. Trinity Hospital of Augusta is meeting today to decide its policies.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

SHOT RECOMMENDATIONS

Health care workers are among those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend get a seasonal flu shot. Others are:

- Children 6 months to 19 years old

- Pregnant women

- People 50 or older

- People with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of flu, such as asthma or diabetes

- Household contacts of infants less than 6 months old

The seasonal flu shot is not expected to provide protection against the novel influenza A H1N1 virus, which might become the dominant flu strain this year. The Food and Drug Administration said a vaccine against that strain will not start distribution until late September to mid-October.

That vaccine -- which will be free, though some providers might charge a fee for administering it -- will be prioritized to those most at risk from the strain as vaccine becomes available. This includes:

- Pregnant women

- Those who live with an infant younger than 6 months

- Those 6 months to 24 years old

Also in the recommended group are health care workers involved in direct patient care and adults with underlying health risks that put them at greater risk from the flu.