News & Events

Influenza vaccine helps protect you

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
October 2004 Edition

By Donna Lazorik, RN, MS, CS
Bureau of Communicable Disease Control, Massachusetts DPH

Every year in Massachusetts, an estimated 2,600 people are hospitalized and 800 people die due to complications from influenza—a highly infectious viral disease. Because of their increased exposure to people who are ill, nurses, like other healthcare workers, are more likely than the general public to become infected with influenza. Every year, up to 25 percent of health care workers get the flu.

Everyone who becomes infected with influenza is at risk for complications from the disease, including pneumonia and exacerbation of underlying conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and cardiac disease. Studies have shown that pregnant women with influenza are hospitalized at the same rate as non-pregnant women with high-risk medical conditions. Pregnant women can and should get vaccinated in any trimester.

Infected health care workers can be asymptomatic and still be infectious. Even when symptomatic, many health care workers continue to work. In addition to putting themselves at risk, infected health care workers can bring the influenza virus home to their families, expose their colleagues, and transmit influenza to their vulnerable patients.

Despite the morbidity and mortality associated with influenza and the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, only 36 percent of health care workers get vaccinated every year. The most frequent reasons cited by health care workers for not receiving influenza vaccine ("the vaccine causes the flu" and "they are not at risk for getting the flu")1 are based on misinformation. When nurses have misconceptions about influenza vaccine for themselves, they are not only denying themselves the protection that the vaccine can provide to them, they also may be providing inaccurate information to their patients.

Influenza vaccination of health care workers is a safety issue for both nurses and their patients. Nurses have a responsibility to be informed and to do what is necessary to protect themselves, their families and their patients. There are many resources to assist nurses in educating themselves about the true risks associated with influenza infection, and the risks and benefits of the influenza vaccine. The Influenza Information icon on the home page of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Web site ( is a link to the most current guidelines and recommendations regarding influenza vaccine.

A Web-based continuing education course, Importance of Vaccinating Health Care Workers Against Influenza, is available at:

To obtain an Employee Immunization Campaign Tool Kit, call MassPRO at 781.419.2749, or visit the MassPRO Web site at

1. Steiner M, Vermeulen LC, Mullahy J, Hayney MS. Factors influencing decisions regarding influenza vaccination and treatments: a survey of healthcare workers. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2002;23:625.