This member-only article appears in the September issue of Patient Safety Monitor Journal.
With a new flu season right around the corner, now is the time for hospitals and other healthcare facilities to consider implementing a mandatory vaccination program for seasonal influenza. Some employees may initially object, but most experts agree that flu shots are a necessity for healthcare workers.
“It’s really important for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated because they are in really close contact with the most vulnerable of our populations,” says Terri Rebmann, PhD, RN, CIC, FAPIC, director of the Institute for Biosecurity at Saint Louis University. “If the healthcare personnel become infected, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms, when they shed the influenza virus during patient care activities, they can then expose those really high-risk patients.”
Many healthcare workers already understand that getting a flu shot every fall helps protect not only themselves, but also coworkers, friends and family, and of course patients. Others, however, will require more than a reminder of the 2017–2018 flu season, which was the worst in nearly a decade, to go get vaccinated for the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends annual flu vaccinations for all healthcare personnel, reported that during the 2015–2016 flu season, there was a vaccination rate of over 95% for healthcare workers whose employers required them to get vaccinated for seasonal influenza, compared to a 79% vaccination rate overall among healthcare workers.
“For many years, seasonal influenza vaccines have been offered to healthcare personnel and there have been a number of initiatives, educational campaigns, and other types of interventions that have been attempted in order to increase healthcare worker intake of seasonal influenza vaccine,” says Rebmann. “But over and over again, the research has shown that the mandatory vaccination policies are the strongest indicator of high vaccination rates among healthcare personnel.”
Rebmann is quick to point out that a mandatory vaccination policy doesn’t mean that every single healthcare worker must be vaccinated against the flu; “there are legitimate reasons why some healthcare personnel cannot be vaccinated.” Some are allergic to the vaccine or a component of the vaccine. Others have religious or philosophical objections to being vaccinated, which some healthcare organizations will respect if a worker submits proof.
Rebmann says that mandatory flu vaccination for healthcare personnel is recommended by organizations such as The Infectious Diseases Society of America, The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, and The Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.
In May, the Association of Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare joined the club, releasing a position statement recommending flu shots, among other vaccinations, for healthcare workers. It also asks “administrators to consider a policy that makes annual influenza vaccination mandatory (with medical exemptions) or offer alternatives to vaccination such as requiring the use of surgical masks for patient care by healthcare workers who refuse the vaccine.”