image by: Fuschia Foot
In healthcare, it's that time of year again. What begins as a slow trickle of email reminders from hospital administrators regarding mandatory flu vaccinations inevitably becomes a deluge. These messages provide locations and times for staff to enthusiastically line up and fulfill their annual commitment to patient care.
As the days turn to weeks and physicians such as myself become delinquent, the friendly reminders turn into threatening rebukes in large, bold font. Soon, the hospital's administrators compel action and we surrender our arms to nurses and their large vaccine-filled needles. All of this is done to achieve a bright sticker bearing the words "I got my flu shot for you"…
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It’s an edict that comes out every autumn in many hospitals: If health care workers don’t get a flu shot, they will face consequences. Some make vaccinations a condition of employment. Others require unvaccinated staff to wear surgical masks near patients for weeks during flu season.
But a new study is calling into question the scientific evidence underpinning these increasingly common hospital policies — and could fuel challenges to the contentious orders.
Persistent misconceptions about vaccine safety contribute to the problem.
I do think our primary moral imperative is to not kill our patients with vaccine-preventable illnesses and that is the more important ethical imperative, not HCW autonomy. But that is me.
Whether in healthcare or any other industry, it’s understandable that employers would want to limit the impact of the flu in their organizations. But to avoid the legal minefields associated with mandatory flu vaccines, employers may want to consider various options for encouraging workers to voluntarily get the flu vaccine.
The American way is to do as we please. But when it comes to transmission of disease, obviously things aren’t quite so simple. So should healthcare workers be required to get annual flu vaccines?
Does it protect staff? Not if one were to read the true placebo flu vaccine efficacy study recently published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Those who were vaccinated for the flu had 5.5 times more respiratory illness than those who were not vaccinated. Other studies show that repeated annual flu vaccines decrease their effectiveness.
Health care workers should know better than anyone that it is important to get vaccinated against the flu virus to protect their own health and prevent the possibility of infecting patients.
Monto calls the decision to pass up the vaccine—whether you are a health worker or not—"stupid behavior," noting that the demonstrated benefits to yourself and those around you far outweigh any slight risks of adverse reactions.
Why are hospitals lagging so far behind? Reasons cited by survey respondents include a resistance by administrators to mandate vaccinations or masks, and concerns about staff rights or union opposition.
"I'm not anti-vaccine," he insisted. "I think there's a line you cross when you make something mandatory that you better damn well make sure what you're doing is really going to have an impact because you're taking away people's rights to choose one way or the other. And you're also setting yourself up for a battle."
A growing number of U.S. hospitals now compel health care workers to get vaccinated against the flu and other infectious diseases to protect patients from communicable diseases.
When public health is jeopardized, and a safe, low-cost, and effective method to achieve patient safety exists, health care organizations and public health authorities have a responsibility to take action and change the status quo. Mandatory influenza vaccination for health care workers is supported not only by scientific data but also by ethical principles and legal precedent.
For those who refuse due to ethical or scientific reservations, there are penalties. In addition to potentially being fired or losing income, work privileges are lost and physicians lose access to information systems, which prevents them from accessing patient records, conducting research, and billing for their medical services.
Influenza vaccination information for health care workers.
The Influenza Vaccination Honor Roll represents the champions who have taken the lead in mandating influenza vaccination within their organization or institution.
Blog and writings for members and non-members of those who do not support forced vaccination in the workplace.