Tri-Cities hospitals offering optional swine flu vaccine to front-line employees

Rain Smith • Oct 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Two of the NE Tennessee region's leading health providers, Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health Systems, are now offering swine flu vaccinations to workers in direct patient care.

In both health care groups vaccinations are optional for employees, not mandatory.

MSHA, which operates Johnson City Medical Center and Kingsport's Indian Path, began offering the inhaled flu mist vaccine last Wednesday. According to spokesman James Watson, MSHA received 2,000 of those vaccinations, and additional injectable shots arrived this Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, he said only a couple dozen employees have opted to have the vaccine administered.

"Even though we've got 2,000 doses of (the mist) we're telling our team members to wait for the injectable, which is supposed to be between 75 and 80 percent effective," Watson said, adding the mist is estimated to be less than 50 percent effective.

Within Wellmont Health Systems, whose operations include Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport and Bristol Regional Medical Center, about 100 flu mist vaccines were made available to employees beginning last week. According to director of marketing communications, Amy Stevens, another 1,400 or so injectable vaccinations were offered to employees beginning Wednesday.

Stevens said Wellmont hopes to dispense its allotment of vaccinations, and have distributed a lighthearted video to increase vaccination rates. A spoof of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps” was written by Wellmont’s Chief Medical Officer Dale Sargent, and titled “Gimme Three Shots.”

As of Wednesday afternoon the video had more than 15,000 views on You Tube. Stevens said Wellmont has received responses to the education effort from hospitals across the county, with a New Hampshire facility asking permission to use Sargent's lyrics for their own video rendition.

According to MSHA's Watson, health care workers, like the general public, often receive information on vaccinations from a variety of sources -- many of which are distributing incorrect information.

He said there is unfounded concern that H1N1 vaccination proliferated the rare Guillain-Barre syndrome in 1976. But, according to the Center for Disease Control, no statistical significant association was found; only one additional case of GBS occurred per 100,000 people vaccinated.

A search of the Internet can also find vaccinations of all varieties, specifically the H1N1 strand, at the center of numerous conspiracy theories -- from government and corporate sponsored mind-control of citizens, to the lowering of populations through mass genocide.

"Every year the vaccine companies that make flu vaccine change the strand," responded Watson to fears that H1N1 vaccinations are new and untested. "This vaccine is made by the same people in the same factories, and in the same way as the normal seasonal flu vaccine. All that has been changed is the strain. So it's really no more new or different than in any other year."

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