A no-brainer: Mandatory flu shots for hospital workers

Hospital and clinic personnel who work with patients should receive an annual flu shot in order to reduce the risk of spreading the infectious virus. Yet surprisingly, only 40 percent of healthcare workers are vaccinated. In light of these dismal findings, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) voted 12-to-2 that hospitals should consider mandating the vaccine if they fail to achieve a 90 percent employee vaccination rate after training and educating their workers about the benefits of the shot.

Backing the NVAC recommendation are other prestigious public health and medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians the latter of whom also stated that personal preference should not exempt a healthcare worker from receiving the flu shot. However, most healthcare groups support a policy that would allow employees medical or religious exemptions with the stipulation that such exempted staff members be required to wear protective face masks or avoid direct contact with patients during the flu season.

Alhough NVAC did not specifically recommend that health care institutions make flu vaccinations mandatory for workers, the federal agency part of the Department of Health and Human Services stated that supporting such a mandate will encourage more hospitals to adopt this policy and would provide a legitimate basis for them to fire those healthcare personnel who refuse to comply. ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan fully condones such a practice, stating that if people have personal objections to getting vaccinated, that s OK. They just shouldn t be working in a hospital or clinic setting with direct patient contact. Though they have every right to expose themselves, and even their family members, to preventable illness, they do not have the right to expose the vulnerable patients with whom they come in contact.

Despite agreeing with the general direction of the NVAC recommendations, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross believes that these recommendations are ultimately toothless. He notes, however, that one sure way to get the attention of hospitals may be to hit them in their pocketbooks: Perhaps a patient, or a family member, who was sickened or killed due to exposure to a non-vaccinated employee will successfully sue a hospital maybe that would help to increase staff vaccination rates.