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Patients with chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are at a higher risk of infections compared to the general population. Despite the increased risks, too often these patients do not receive the proper vaccinations. Two UNC physicians are taking steps to address this important health issue.

Saira Sheikh, MD; Mildred Kwan, MD, PhD
Materials developed by the Thurston Arthritis Research Center highlight current vaccination guidelines.

According to the CDC, the most significant barrier to achieving optimal vaccination rates for patients with chronic inflammatory diseases is lack of awareness about vaccines among adult patients and providers. Vaccine guidelines can be particularly complex, and must be altered and customized for different types of patients based on their health history, vaccination history, risk factors, age and other variables.

To address the problem head on, Dr. Saira Sheikh, an allergist/immunologist and rheumatologist, and Dr. Mildred Kwan, an allergist/immunologist, have developed a number of specialized educational tools that will be distributed directly to all board certified allergists, immunologists and rheumatologists throughout the country. Because of their educational value, the materials will also be provided to fellows-in-training for both subspecialties.

The two UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center physicians developed the materials in partnership with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, which is posting the items on its website. To further enhance readership among physicians, the materials will count toward CME (Continuing Medical Education). Dr. Sheikh’s and Dr. Kwan’s work on the educational materials is supported by a Junior Faculty Development Award and the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center.

At the conclusion of the program, data gathered to measure its success will be analyzed with the hope that it can be fine-tuned, and expanded for use in primary care and other sub-specialties.