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Vol. LVII, No. 25
December 16, 2005

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The Shot Heard 'Round the Campus: NIH Flu Clinic Immunizes Thousands

Michael Jordan and Zita Givens have something in common. Hoopster Jordan was long renowned for his great shots. But he has little on Givens, at least off the court. The National Institute on Aging program analyst has a nice shot of her own — one that required her to visit the Clinical Center, where she rolled up her sleeve and took advantage of a key employee benefit — getting her annual free flu shot.

Givens is a true believer in flu shots. She has been vaccinated at the NIH clinic for at least 10 years, except for last year, when only NIH health care providers and persons designated "at risk" by the CDC were able to get vaccinated, due to a critical nationwide shortage of the vaccine.

"It was so smooth this year. I was fortunate. There was virtually no line, and I was in and out of there in probably less than 5 minutes," recalls Givens, whose family members, like her, have also been vaccinated this year (at an outside facility).

The annual "Foil the Flu" campaign is a joint venture of the Occupational Medical Service, Division of Occupational Health Services, Office of Research Services and the Clinical Center Hospital Epidemiology Service (HES). While the flu clinic has been operating for 20 years, this year's program was not held in its usual spot at the OMS clinic on Bldg. 10's 6th floor. It was held in a new venue — outside of the OMS offices on the 5th floor of the new Hatfield Clinical Research Center.

"It's what we call a dedicated clinic and it worked beautifully," noted Angela Michelin, infection control specialist with HES. She handles publicity and other administrative duties in connection with the flu program. Meanwhile, the day-to-day details of the clinic were handled primarily by two nurses, Joan Morris and Marge McCombs, though many OMS nurses had a hand in administering the vaccine.

This year's flu clinic began on Nov. 7 with the program operating in three phases — running through the alphabet, visiting off-campus facilities and then running through the alphabet again, with the program concluding at the end of November. During the first week of operation, nearly 4,000 employees were vaccinated. Prior to opening the clinic to employees, the OMS nurses also vaccinated almost 1,900 NIH health care workers. By Thanksgiving, nearly 7,600 employees had been vaccinated.

One advantage of getting a flu vaccination from the NIH clinic is the availability of the vaccine. While some private practitioners are still having difficulty obtaining the vaccine, "last spring the NIH ordered about 10,000 doses," said Dr. James Schmitt, medical director of the OMS clinic. "The number of doses administered at NIH has increased over the years," he said, adding that because of good planning, NIH typically has no problem obtaining supplies of the vaccine.

Besides the change of venue, this year's flu clinic had a secondary and separate purpose from clinics in years past. "It was good practice for a potential disaster, such as might be seen in the case of bioterrorism or pandemic influenza. This preparedness training actually began 2 years ago in collaboration with the Navy and Suburban Hospital," said Michelin. She added that the success of the clinic "tells us that this type of mass vaccination clinic really can work during an emergency state."

The flu, a contagious infection of the nose, throat and lungs, is caused by the influenza virus. The illness is viewed as a major health risk, primarily to specific groups, including the elderly and those with chronic heart, lung or kidney ailments or people with an immunodeficiency disease (e.g., HIV/AIDS). About 36,000 people a year die from complications of the flu, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. While medical experts strongly urge that high-risk individuals take the vaccine, unless it is not medically advised, anyone who wishes to avoid the flu can take the shot.

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on how accurate predictions of the flu strain turn out to be. "If we predict the strains correctly, then the vaccine is about 80 percent effective," said OMS's Schmitt.

Though this year's Foil the Flu campaign has ended, you may still be able to get vaccinated by calling the OMS clinic at (301) 496-4411. Or you can check with your local health clinic or health care provider about receiving the vaccine.

Still, you may be wondering, should you get a flu shot? "Get the flu just one time and I think the answer will be pretty obvious," concluded Schmitt.

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