Free Flu Shots and Chance to Contribute to NIH Study Begin Today

It’s that time of year again when students, staff and faculty at the Miller School and UHealth can take steps to protect themselves and those around them — plus contribute to science — by receiving a free influenza vaccination that will be available beginning today without an appointment at employee health offices across campus, as well as at future health fairs.

Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean, and CEO of UHealth, and Thomas M. Hooton, M.D., professor of clinical medicine and Medical Director of Infection Control and Employee Health for UHealth, hope protecting the health of patients, the public, their families and themselves will be incentive enough for all employees and students to make this year’s vaccination campaign the most successful to date.

“Influenza vaccination is a major employee and patient safety issue, and should be regarded as an obligation,” said Dean Goldschmidt. “Once again this year, fulfilling that obligation comes with a bonus — the chance to help our colleagues improve the science of keeping our elders healthy.”

Employees who get their annual flu shot also have the opportunity to contribute to science. By agreeing to donate blood, participants can help Miller School researchers conduct an NIH-funded study of how B cells contribute to the response to the vaccine, which decreases with age. Researchers are offering a $20 incentive for each blood draw. There will be three mandatory blood draws and three optional over a period of six months. Each blood draw is 50 ml, equivalent to 3 tablespoons.

While there is no requirement to participate in the study, Hooton said that the University has an institutional culture that expects students, employees, and faculty — particularly those who have direct patient contact — to get a flu shot.

“We want everybody to participate – for their sake, for their family’s sake and for the patients’ sake,” he said. “A lot of people aren’t exposed to patients, but they are exposed to their family members and others. This is a public health issue. It’s not just a personal issue.”

The national target vaccination rate for healthcare workers is 90 percent, and hospitals now must publicly report their influenza vaccination rates for all employees, students, trainees, volunteers and faculty.

Last week, Dean Goldschmidt and other members of his leadership team enthusiastically gave blood for the NIH study when Natalia Fadul, nurse specialist from UMHC/SCCC, administered their flu vaccines. Led by Bonnie Blomberg, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology, the study, “Regulation of B lymphocyte defects in senescent humans,” is designed to understand why the immune response to vaccines in the elderly population is reduced. Started in 2007, the study measures the immune response (antibody) to the influenza vaccine in healthy individuals of different ages recruited at the Miller School. In the last two years recruitment has been extended to people of different ages with age-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

“Thanks to the excellent participation to date of our faculty, staff and students, Dr. Blomberg and her team already have made some important discoveries about the immune system response to the flu vaccine, which one day are destined to improve flu vaccines for our elder population, who are at higher risk of flu-related deaths,” the Dean said. “I congratulate Dr. Blomberg and her team, and encourage all eligible faculty, staff and students to do their part by donating blood when they get their vaccines.”

To date, the major findings from the study include:

  • The immune response to the influenza vaccine declines with age, as measured by antibody production. Nevertheless, the elderly responded adequately in the previous two seasons because the vaccine was repeated.
  • An optimal memory response is generated in each individual, especially after repeated immunizations.
  • Pre-existing inflammation negatively impacts a beneficial immune response to the vaccine.
  • The function of the antibody producing cells (B cells) is affected by aging and inflammation.
  • B cell tags (biomarkers) have been discovered that predict which individuals will develop an optimal response to the influenza vaccine.
  • These tags will be helpful in measuring the effectiveness of various interventions, including pharmacological and nutritional, in aging and inflammatory situations where the response to the vaccine is blunted.
  • A screen for molecules that will improve the response to vaccines affected by aging is being developed.

Study participants must donate the first required blood draw before receiving their flu shot. Both can be done at one of the upcoming Benefits Fairs on:

  • Wednesday, October 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at University of Miami Hospital Seminar Center
  • Thursday, October 17, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Schoninger Research Quadrangle
  • Friday, October 18, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Schoninger Research Quadrangle

Alternatively, prospective participants can contact Blomberg’s lab at 305-243-6225 to schedule the first blood draw before heading to an employee health office (listed below) for their vaccine.

“We are interested in recruiting healthy individuals from 20 to 90 years of age, without any pathology affecting the immune system, as well as type 2 diabetic patients of any age,” said Daniela Frasca, Ph.D., research assistant professor.

Free flu shots are available beginning today without an appointment at the following locations and times:

  • University of Miami Hospital, UHealth Occupational Health/Workers’ Compensation Clinic West Building, Suite 502, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone: 305-689-5891, or 305-689-COMP. There also will be several opportunities for physicians to get vaccinated outside the physicians’ dining room.
  • Sylvester/UMHC Employee Health Office, Hope Lodge, suite 202, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phone: 305-243-4201.
  • Dominion Tower, suite 405, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone: 305-243-8473.
  • Healthy ‘Canes Employee Clinic, Medical Campus, Professional Arts Center, room 708, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phone: 305-243-9355.
  • Healthy ‘Canes Employee Clinic, Coral Gables Campus, McKnight Building, 5807 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, suite 109, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phone: 305-284-9355.

For more information on the influenza vaccine, please visit the Employee Health Office online.

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