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University of Iowa News Release


April 18, 2008

Helms wins Fulbright award to study vaccine policy in Australia

Charles Helms, M.D., Ph.D., professor of internal medicine in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to conduct vaccine policy research in Australia.

Helms, an infectious diseases specialist and medical director of the Office of Clinical Quality, Safety and Performance Improvement at UI Hospitals and Clinics, will travel to New South Wales, Australia in 2009 to study their new policy of health care worker immunization.

In 2006, New South Wales implemented a plan that requires the screening and vaccination of all health care workers for preventable diseases. Its goal is to radically reduce the transmission of such diseases among health care workers and to patients.

Currently, Iowa and most other U.S. states do not require mandatory programs of health care worker vaccinations. Hence, understanding the impact of the Australian directive could be key to shaping vaccination policies in the United States, Helms said.

"One of the most important public health accomplishments over the past half-century has been the reduction of illness and death through vaccination against preventable diseases," said Helms, who has chaired the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Vaccine Advisory Committee. "The irony is that vaccination rates among health care workers in the U.S. have traditionally been lower than those of the general public. One of my goals is to learn from the Australian initiative to determine if similar efforts might be useful in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world."

As part of his Fulbright-supported research, hosted by the University of Sydney, Helms will evaluate the impact of the vaccination plan through data analysis and interviews with Australian public health officials, health policy leaders, health care facility directors, medical and nursing staff, patient and public policy advocates, and others groups.

Established in 1946, the Fulbright Program is the U.S. government's flagship program in international educational exchange. The program is sponsored by the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Under a cooperative agreement with the bureau, the Council for International Exchange of Scholars assists in the administration of the Fulbright Scholar Program for faculty and professionals.

Recipients of Fulbright awards -- both U.S. and international -- are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and because they have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032, Writer: Stacie Carpenter