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Workers at risk of needlesticks during the COVID-19 vaccination campaign

As of this writing on April 17, the Chicago Tribune reports that officials say almost 8 million vaccine doses have been administered and almost 3.3 million people in Illinois are now fully vaccinated – that is about one-quarter of our population. In Winnebago County, we are almost at that level with 23.4% of our population now fully vaccinated.

Heightened needlestick injury risk

We are all grateful for the people who have stepped up during this pandemic to administer COVID-19 vaccinations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) posted a NIOSH Science Blog about prevention of needlestick injuries under these circumstances, noting that the high volume of dose administration likely increases the risk of needlestick injuries to vaccinators and their colleagues.

(At the NIOSH link above, the science blog contains many more links to helpful information.)

For one thing, improvised vaccination sites that are not within health care settings may have furniture and equipment that are not standard. The CDC explains that patients’ may position their arms in unusual ways such as from vehicles. Finally, vaccinators should be using personal protective equipment (PPE) against the coronavirus, which may make maneuvering clumsier.

What is a needlestick injury?

The definition of a needlestick injury, also called a sharps injury, is the accidental pricking or penetration of skin from a needle or another sharp object that was already exposed to another’s bodily fluid, tissue or blood, according to the CDC. The biggest risk of a needlestick is exposure to bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B (HBV) or C, or HIV – serious diseases with the possibility of fatal outcome. (The CDC advises being current on HBV vaccination.)

The CDC recommends that employers whose employees are administering the coronavirus vaccines provide thorough training in sharps safety and disposal. While all employees can benefit, it is especially important for employees coming out of retirement or those who do not normally administer shots. There are specific governmental standards for safe handling of needles in medical settings that the employer must meet.

Should a vaccinator experience a needlestick injury, the CDC directs them to call the PEP hotline at 1-888-448-4911 for immediate medical advice – not even waiting until the end of their shift. Seek immediate medical care, ideally within two hours.

Workers’ compensation claims

In addition to immediate health care, vaccinators who sustain sharps injuries should report this to their employers as soon as possible. An injured vaccinator should file a workers’ compensation claim for resulting medical costs, missed work and the impact of transmitted diseases.