Here at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia we have about 44 full- and part-time staff people. When a cold or the flu is going around, 10% to 20% of staff can easily be at home sick. That makes staffing a challenge, particularly because we have to have enough personnel here to sell tickets to the Mütter Museum and staff the museum store.
In winter 2013, I polled the employees here and found that only 43% had gotten the flu vaccine in the 2012-13 season. To try to boost our uptake of the vaccine, in fall 2013 I organized a flu vaccine awareness campaign. The result was that about 70% of staffers got the vaccine for the 2013-14 season.
This year we decided to reduce all the barriers to vaccination (the trip to the doctor or the pharmacy, needing one’s insurance card, inertia), and we brought a pharmacist here to give the trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine to any staffers or contractors who wanted it. As an incentive, and like last year, we gave a $10 Trader Joe’s gift card to anyone who got the vaccine.
I’m happy to say that 30 people took the vaccine at our vaccine clinic. Eight people had already gotten the vaccine before the pharmacist’s visit. That means that 37 of 44 people — 85% — have already been vaccinated, well before what is usually the height of the flu season.
We had a good chance to see some health behavior models in action that we usually only read about in textbooks. Health Belief Model? Two of our staffers told their co-workers about their diagnosis of influenza A infection last year, one of which landed a staffer with asthma in the hospital ICU. Heightened perception of risk? Check. Social Network Theory? Lots of modeling of vaccination, and perceiving the normalcy of it, convinced several people who’d never gotten flu vaccine before to line up. It wasn’t exactly peer pressure, but there was lots of peer encouragement and, I believe, even some hand-holding.
Is the flu vaccine perfect? No. Were people’s arms sore the next day? Yes. But we’ve gone a long way to reduce our risk of influenza infection here at the College, where our mission is to advance the cause of health while upholding the ideals and heritage of medicine. You can’t do that when you’re sick in bed or when you’re passing influenza on to others.