From left: Gloria Oppen, NP, demonstrates the Peer-to-Peer flu vaccine program with her Occupational Health Services colleague, Dennisse Rivera.

From left: Gloria Oppen, NP, demonstrates the Peer-to-Peer flu vaccination program with her Occupational Health Services colleague, Dennisse Rivera.

Flu vaccination rates at the Brigham hit their highest levels ever last year, with 90 percent of BWHC staff receiving the vaccine. And as the hospital aims for an even higher rate for the 2016–2017 flu season to further improve patient safety, a task force of clinical and administrative leadership is trying to better understand what prevented the remaining 10 percent of staff from getting their flu shot.

Among those who declined to receive the vaccine for the 2015–2016 flu season, the most common reasons given during the attestation process were “don’t want/need, never get the flu” (37 percent) and that the “influenza vaccine can cause flu/made me sick in the past” (25 percent).

But both of these beliefs are common misconceptions, notes Deborah Yokoe, MD, an infectious disease expert, medical director of BWH Infection Prevention and Control, and member of the BWHC Flu Vaccination Task Force.

“A flu shot can’t give you the flu—it doesn’t contain any live viruses,” Yokoe said. “Even if you are generally super healthy, you can become miserably sick from the flu. In addition, even before you notice that you’re sick, you can pass the flu virus on to your co-workers, friends, family and our patients. Especially for people with chronic health conditions, influenza can be life-threatening. If for no other reason, you should be getting a flu shot every year so that you’re not spreading the flu unknowingly to others.”

This season’s flu vaccination policy remains the same as last year: Staff members who do not get a flu shot by Dec. 1 for any reason, including medical and religious reasons, must wear a surgical or procedure mask in patient areas for the duration of the flu season. Patient areas include not only clinical spaces, but also waiting rooms and family rooms.

‘The Flu Can Be Devastating’

Last season, physicians led with the highest rate of flu vaccination at 97 percent, followed closely by nurses at 94 percent. The research community came in below the overall average, with one in four—amounting to 740 BWHers—declining to receive a flu shot last year. But with the upcoming opening of the Brigham’s newest building at 60 Fenwood Road, research and clinical spaces will come into closer proximity, making it even more important for all members of the BWHC research community to get vaccinated.

Tanya Laidlaw, MD, director of Translational Research in the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, is both a researcher and clinician. As a pediatrician and immunologist, Laidlaw treats patients whose compromised immune systems leave them vulnerable to the flu, and she knows exactly how dangerous it can be if they come in contact with a person who has the virus.

“When a non-clinician pictures someone getting the flu, they might think of a bad head cold that can last for a day or two, but for some patients I see, the flu can be devastating,” said Laidlaw.

Elena Losina, PhD, MSC, co-director of BWH’s Orthopaedics and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research (OrACORe) and her colleagues will move in the new building this fall. She says getting the flu shot is an annual routine, and that her group’s administrator also sends helpful reminders to the team about flu clinic dates and how to attest to receiving the flu shot.

“We’ll be working in the same building where patients are being seen and will be close to the flu clinics being held on campus—there really are no excuses,” said Losina.

For more details about this year’s flu vaccination policy, as well as dates of upcoming flu clinics, visit

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