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Story from the Field: Ambush on H1N1

January 12, 2010

Ambushing the Flu

At the UAB Hospital in Birmingham, AL, a new kind of guerilla warfare is being waged against H1N1. The hospital’s employees'' health department nurses are using a tactical strategy to get healthcare workers vaccinated: the surprise attack or ambush.

Nurses are appearing in busy hospital units with carts armed with needles and vaccine. The effort is to ensure that healthcare workers have opportunities to protect themselves and their patients against seasonal and H1N1 influenza.

The “flu ambush” started before the outbreak of H1N1, in order to increase the rate of flu vaccination by hospital employees. Started in 2008, the program targets first pregnant employees, those working in maternal and infant care, expanding to include all those involved in direct patient care as more vaccine became available.

Overall Reception Has Been Very Positive

“[UAB employees] are happy that we are coming to their units and major hubs of the hospital. [These are] locations with a lot of foot traffic,” said Peggy Martin, a registered nurse at UAB Hospital. “I think they are surprised initially when they see us and the immunization cart. Most of the time it''s a pleasant surprise.”

Rates of vaccination have increased since the unexpected on-site vaccinations began. According to Martin, as of January 11, 4,955 employees (the sum of 3,559 seasonal flu shots and 1,396 H1N1) at the UAB hospital were vaccinated through the program.

But the H1N1 pandemic may have created a more complex situation and resulted in some resistance to vaccination.  Although, the UAB nurses have given 1,197 more shots so far this year than were given last year in the period from October to March, the rate of seasonal flu vaccination is lower than last season’s.

“I think the main reason is that we have two different flu vaccinations available,” said Martin. “[And] I think there are a number of people that still remember the 1976 Swine Flu debacle and those individuals are not going to take the H1N1 [vaccine] no matter what.”

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