Healthcare Workers Need to Have Flu Vaccinations

A work group is attempting to increase the number of workers getting the flu vaccine with a voluntary program
November 12, 2010 -- Despite the fact that 1,316 Oregonians were hospitalized and 67 died of influenza-related illnesses last year, Oregon healthcare workers are still falling behind when it comes to vaccinating themselves for the flu.

A survey of hospitals last year revealed only about 62 percent of healthcare workers in Oregon got a flu vaccine.A statewide workgroup hopes to boost that number and encourage workers to immunize themselves against the seasonal illness.

The group, which meets on a quarterly basis, is comprised of representatives from numerous local, state and nonprofit health agencies, including the Oregon Public Health Division, Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Medical Association.
 
They're examining the effectiveness of a voluntary vaccination program and determining ways to increase worker vaccination rates, said Stacy Moritz, director of Medicare quality services at Acumentra Health.
 
“If we can increase the voluntary efforts, it becomes one less bureaucratic step we have to take,” said Collette Young with the Public Health Division's Immunization Program.
 
Currently, Oregon hospitals and long-term care facilities cannot mandate that workers get vaccinated, but can require them to wear masks.
 
During this year's special legislative session, Sen. Bill Morrisette (D-Springfield) introduced Senate Bill 1011 which would have mandated annual flu vaccinations for licensed healthcare professionals employed at long-term care and healthcare facilities employing at least 25 people
 
That bill was tabled after several people who testified indicated they preferred a voluntary approach. Legislators will receive an update on that voluntary program when they meet next year, said Don Bishoff, legislative assistant to Morrisette
 
While it's unclear how many people actually get sick from a contagious healthcare worker, people with compromised immune systems face an obvious risk.
 
“If somebody’s in the hospital or a long-term care facility, (illness) could be brought into the environment they’re in through an unimmunized healthcare provider who is maybe unaware that have the flu,” Moritz said.
 
The Office for the Oregon Health Policy and Research began collecting vaccination rates from hospitals for the 2009-10 flu season as part of the healthcare acquired infection reporting program. It showed that while 62 percent of healthcare workers got vaccinated, 12 percent refused for non-medical reasons and 1 percent refused for medical reasons.
 
The workgroup hopes that will change as hospitals and care facilities offer vaccination fairs and clinics and encourage healthcare workers to vaccinate each other. It will also offer incentives by producing a web-based “honor roll” recognizing those who’ve been successful.
 
The flu is blamed for about 36,000 deaths nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends that “people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers” get vaccinated.
 
According to a 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 90 percent of those who die from a flu-related illness are 65 or older.

To Learn More

To review the proposal from the work group, click here.
 
For more information about preventing the flu, click here. 
 

To read Senate Bill 1011 introduced by Senator Bill Morrisette, click here.

For related stories on infections.

 

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Comments

People who work in health care have an ethical obligation to prevent transmitting disease to their clients.... similar to a cop off-duty having an ethical obligation to intervene in a crime they witness. It is crazy that people hide behind their own selfish 'right' to decline flu vaccination. What about my right as a patient to not get sick from going to the hospital or doctor office? Thanks, Lund Report and OHA, for taking time to prioritize this issue.

Mandating this subjects the people mandating to charges they are improving the bottom line for vaccine companies. I think this is a more complicated issue than just guilt-tripping people for not taking shots.

I agree it is a complicated issue, and am not sure how I stand on outright mandates.... I do think people that work in health that don't get flu vaccine are making an unethical choice that puts their patients at risk. They are also risking liability of their employers, there have been successful lawsuits of agencies because of vaccine-preventable diseases given to patients by health workers. Instead of mandates, I prefer things like making health worker vaccines no-cost to them (it would still be a cost-savings...even after buying all those doses). I also think more pressure should fall on the health agencies to include staff vaccination as a measure of patient safety (which is supported by several studies).

Immunizations against contagious diseases should be a condition of employment for health care workers. Period.