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The need to improve influenza vaccination delivery in our community became painfully clear during the winter of 1997–1998 when high rates of respiratory illness led to congestion in the emergency department and a critical shortage of hospital beds. In response, the local hospital and the Department of Health launched a collaborative program to increase influenza vaccine coverage in the community.
The partnership was designed to increase the number of citizens receiving influenza vaccine and to moderate the severity of lower respiratory tract illness during the winter season. A variety of methods were used to increase public awareness, enhance vaccine delivery, and create a relatively seamless service for the community.
During three seasons, influenza vaccination rates increased by a relative 150%. This represented immunization of 16% of the entire community and more than 75% of residents older than 65 years. Hospital employee vaccination rates also rose from 34% to 58%. When compared with other hospitals in the county, the campaign reduced the average number of annual visits to the emergency department for all respiratory diagnoses by 34% and exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by 46%.
This influenza vaccination program illustrates the potential for synergy that exists between local departments of health and community hospitals in successfully increasing vaccine delivery to the community. Furthermore, it also suggests that such efforts can be successful in reducing use of the emergency department, resulting in a positive impact on the health of the community.
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