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Protecting students, employees from flu

The opportunity for a new challenge brought Delanda Kent to UB´┐Żand keeps her here.

Schools in the Academic Health Center are immunizing faculty, staff and students who come into direct contact with patients. Photo: NANCY J. PARISI

By SUE WUETCHER
Published: November 11, 2009

Schools in UB’s Academic Health Center (AHC) are working to protect their students and employees from influenza—both seasonal and H1N1—by organizing clinics to make sure everyone who works with patients has the opportunity to be vaccinated.

The campaign to vaccinate employees and students was prompted by a mandate issued in early September by the state Department of Health requiring that all health care personnel who come into direct contact with patients be vaccinated against both the seasonal and H1N1 flu by Nov. 30. And although that mandate was rescinded last month—primarily due to insufficient supplies of the seasonal vaccine and a pending lawsuit regarding the H1N1 vaccine—the schools are moving forward with their efforts.

The School of Dental Medicine already has held five seasonal flu clinics for its faculty, staff and students, says Robin Comeau, quality assurance coordinator and patient care compliance officer for the school. The school obtained its vaccine from an outside vendor who had the vaccine—Student Health Services’ supply was limited—and who would be able to administer it as well, Comeau says. She explains that the seasonal vaccine is in short supply because most vendors placed their orders with manufacturers in January and February 2009, well before the increased demand for the vaccine became apparent and the state issued its mandate.

It has been trickier to schedule H1N1 clinics, since that vaccine is even scarcer than the seasonal vaccine, Comeau adds, noting that the school continues to work with its vendors and will schedule H1N1 clinics when it is able to obtain that vaccine.

The School of Nursing also has held seasonal flu clinics within the school, and participated in the campus-wide seasonal flu clinics offered in late September by Student Health Services, says Betteanne Riegle, clinical associate professor in the nursing school. Student Health Services also offered an H1N1 clinic last week to distribute doses of the vaccine UB received from SUNY, and nursing students were vaccinated during that clinic, and also administered the vaccine to other students, Riegel says.

Nursing students may administer vaccinations if they are supervised by professional nurses, adds Susan Grinslade, clinical professor and chair of undergraduate nursing. UB nursing students have been working for 16 years in flu clinics organized by the Visiting Nurses Association, and for the past few years with the Catholic Health System, Riegel points out.

The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences partnered with Student Health Services to immunize its students, says Peter Brody, clinical assistant professor and director of experiential education. About 85 percent of the pharmacy student body received seasonal flu vaccinations, Brody said; the school, which received its doses of H1N1 vaccine from Student Health Services, prioritized its distribution of the vaccine, starting with fourth-year students who are in full-time clinical rotations, then third-year students who also perform clinical work. About 160 doses of the H1N1 vaccine were distributed, he said.

Although health care workers are no longer required to be vaccinated with the repeal of the state mandate, students still are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated against both types of influenza.

“We changed the wording from ‘required’ to ‘highly recommended,’” Brody says, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all health care workers be immunized annually against the seasonal flu—and now the H1N1 flu.

The School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences also worked with Student Health Services to immunize its students. Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for medical education, says the school received enough seasonal vaccine to immunize all third- and fourth-year students, “who are the ones with the most patient contact.” At last count, 212 H1N1 immunizations were given, Nielsen says.

She notes that Student Health Services staff also conducted a seasonal flu clinic for first- and second-year students in the Biomedical Education Building.

“On all three occasions, the students were wonderfully cooperative and all went quickly and successfully,” she reports. “Several students emailed me to say they felt ‘cared for’ by the school.”

The Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences has sent information to faculty in all five AHC schools urging them to volunteer with the Erie County Department of Health’s SMART (Specialized Medical Assistance Response) Team that will be doing community-wide H1N1 vaccinations in the coming months, says Carol Kobrin, chief of staff. Faculty in the nursing and medical schools may participate, as well as faculty in the pharmacy school who have a certified license and have been trained to immunize.

Karl Fiebelkorn, associate dean for student affairs and professional relations in the pharmacy school, notes that while UB pharmacy students have been trained since 2001 to immunize, pharmacists have not been allowed to do so until a state law went into effect last December. Several pharmacy faculty members already have this new privilege added to their license, he adds.

Moreover, Gov. David Paterson has signed an emergency declaration temporarily allowing dentists who have received training to also administer vaccinations, Kobrin says, adding that the Erie County health department is finalizing plans for a training program and hopes to begin scheduling training sessions shortly.

Grinslade says the nursing school is making its students and faculty available for the county vaccination program, which is expected to get under way the first week of December.