Mandatory Flu Vaccine for Health Workers, Say Experts
In a press release dated August 31, SHEA said:
“Influenza vaccination of health care personnel is a professional and ethical responsibility and non-compliance with health care facility policies regarding vaccination should not be tolerated,” calling influenza vaccination of health care workers as a “core patient safety practice that should be a condition of both initial and continued employment in health care facilities.”
SHEA’s recommendations apply to all health care professionals in all health care settings, regardless of whether the professional has direct patient contact or whether he or she is directly employed by the facility. The policy also applies to students, volunteers, and contract workers, with exemptions only in cases of medical contraindications.
The group says that health care workers are “ethically obligated” to take measures to prevent the spread of influenza, including getting hand hygiene, cough etiquette, use of protective equipment, restriction of ill personnel in health care facilities, and the influenza vaccine.
Dr. Richard Whitley, president of IDSA, is quoted as saying:
“The scientific evidence shows significant reductions in the risk of influenza in both acute and long-term care settings as a result of strong immunization policies and programs. Vaccination of health care personnel saves patients’ lives and reduces illness. It also protects the individual worker from falling ill during influenza outbreaks and from missing work, which further impacts patient care… Given the debate that surrounded mandatory health care personnel vaccination during the last influenza season, we support and applaud SHEA for issuing a strong and unequivocal statement about the critical importance of health care personnel vaccination.”
Some private hospital chains around the country made flu vaccines mandatory and in 2009, New York state required it of all health care workers with direct patient contact.
From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
“All HCP and persons in training for health care professions should be vaccinated annually against influenza.
A mandatory influenza vaccination policy for HCP, exempting only those with a medical contraindication, has been demonstrated to be a highly effective approach to achieving high vaccine coverage among HCP. Hospitals and health care systems that have mandated vaccination of HCP often have achieved coverage rates of more than 90%, and persons refusing vaccination who do not have a medical contraindication have been required to wear a surgical mask during influenza season in some programs. Efforts to increase vaccination coverage among HCP using mandatory vaccination policies are supported by various national accrediting and professional organizations, including the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and in certain states by statute. Worker objections, including legal challenges, are an important consideration for facilities considering mandates. Studies to assess the impact of mandatory HCP vaccination on patient outcomes are needed.“
Fear of vaccinations in general and distrust of big pharma and government keep many health care workers from availing themselves of an annual flu shot.
“Mandatory” is a loaded word, one which makes a lot of us uncomfortable. On the other hand, health care workers are on the front lines of medical care, coming into very close contact with the sick and injured — the most vulnerable among us.
Last year’s H1N1 pandemic brought the issue front and center and the new flu season promises to amplify the controversy.
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