Flu Vaccine: Occupational Hazard or Standard?

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The first people you encounter when you enter a hospital, pharmacy or nursing home are healthcare personnel.  There is an underlying principal they are employed to “fix” whatever ails you.  What if instead, they are causing you to get sicker by not actively participating in one of the most proven disease prevention strategies known, vaccination?

Healthcare personnel (HCP) can obtain and transmit influenza to patients and other HCP, which can cause an epidemic within any healthcare setting.  Many HCP care for, or are in frequent contact with, patients with influenza and/or patients at high risk for complications of influenza, and the involvement of HCP in influenza transmission is a major concern. (http://www.hhs.gov/ash/initiatives/hai/hcpflu.html)

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Despite concern, millions of HCP, for various reasons, are deciding not to protect themselves, their families and the patients they care for, by not getting immunized against influenza.  The U.S. statistics regarding influenza morbidity, mortality, and economic impact are substantial.  Given the potential to spread the deadly virus, HCP should view influenza vaccination as an occupational standard in providing care to their patients and not as some sort of hazard to employment.  Making influenza vaccine standard for HCP protects patients, HCP too, and reduces disease burden and healthcare costs.

Many states adopted HCP influenza vaccine mandates.  Studies show when mandatory programs are in place, HCP influenza vaccination rates are above 90%, which is above the current rate of ~67% (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6138a1.htm).  Since January 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) require healthcare institutions to report influenza vaccination rates of HCP.  This is a start to learning which facilities are not concerned with patient safety.  Additionally, we should encourage a nationwide mandate (with minimal exceptions) to reduce the spread of the flu virus and uphold HCP of their duty to protect the health and safety of those for whom they care.

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One Response to “Flu Vaccine: Occupational Hazard or Standard?”

  1. coreykest Says:

    Thank you for writing on this topic. I too think that healthcare providers should be made to get the flu vaccination. Simply by their choice of their profession, they have agreed to do what is best for their patients, and in this case that means getting the vaccine. I see you call for a “nationwide mandate” for providers to get the flu vaccine. Is this something that the federal government has the power to do (such as inserting somewhere in the health reform bill), or is it really something best left to the states and their police power?

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