By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
State public health authorities today adopted emergency measures designed to boost flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers and to allow dentists, pharmacists, and paramedics to administer influenza shots.
The actions were taken as officials gird for a fall flu season that could deliver a double whammy of seasonal and swine flu strains. As many as 9 million doses of flu vaccine may be destined for Massachusetts, three times as many as last year.
The state Public Health Council, an appointed board of doctors, consumer advocates, and policy specialists, voted unanimously to require hospitals and clinics to provide flu vaccine to all their workers and certain volunteers. Many healthcare facilities already do that, but council members said they hoped their emergency declaration would emphasize the importance of being vaccinated to physicians, nurses, and healthcare workers.
Infectious disease specialists have long recommended that medical employees be vaccinated -- to protect themselves and patients -- but studies have shown that barely half of workers wind up being inoculated against the viral illness. Even with the emergency action taken today, medical employees could still decline to be vaccinated.
"It's a population we want to make sure gets immunized," said Dr. Alan Woodward, a member of the Public Health Council and former president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. "We can't afford to lose them to illness in the midst of a pandemic."
The council also voted unanimously to expand the roster of health professionals who can provide vaccine. Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the state Department of Public Health, said authorities hope to enlist dentists, pharmacists, and paramedics to provide flu vaccine at government-run clinics.
"It's having more lanes open, if you will," Smith said. "If you have many people coming, you want more lanes open. One of the ways we overcome barriers to immunization is to make it as easy as possible and available as possible."