Pediatrics Group Seeks Mandatory Flu Shots for Health Workers

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Flu in a hospitalized childIn a statement released this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated that it should be mandatory for all healthcare workers to receive flu vaccine. Its statement appeared in the September 7 issue of Pediatrics. One of the lead authors, Dr. Henry H. Bernstein, explained the position: "Employees of health care institutions have an ethical and professional obligation to act in the best interest of their patients' health. For the prevention and control of influenza, we must continue to put the health and safety of the patient first."

The AAP also included several policy guidelines in its statement on how to implement vaccinations. These included: hospitals offering the vaccine free of charge; providing information on the need for the vaccination; and standardizing the way in which medical or religious exemptions should be handled.

To date, mandatory vaccine measures for healthcare workers have been proposed in a couple of states, but none have been passed. However, many hospitals require mandatory vaccinations of healthcare workers as a term of employment. The CDC notes that for the 2013-2014 flu seasons, hospitals where the flu vaccine was mandatory had coverage rates of almost 89 percent of employees. In other years the rate was as high as 97 percent.

In contrast, in hospitals without the mandate the coverage rate was 44.3 percent; in hospitals that only recommend the vaccine the rate was 70.1 percent. Overall, in all hospitals combined, flu vaccine coverage among healthcare workers has never been higher than 75 percent for a single season (2013-2014).

The AAP has set a goal of 90 percent coverage among healthcare workers by 2020.

It is no secret that the flu vaccine is less effective than most other vaccines currently available. The fact that the immunization must be renewed each year, as opposed to receiving a lifetime immunity, makes that point clear (although we appear to be very close to a universal one).

The 2014-2015 flu shot in particular was only about 23 percent effective. Usually, the vaccine doesn't exceed 60 percent effectiveness in a given season. However, this does not mean the shot is not worth getting.

For most healthy people, the flu is not life threatening but it can be potent and even potentially fatal for at-risk populations such as the very young, the old and the immunocompromised. These groups are those who have the most contact with healthcare workers, hence the reasoning for the mandatory shot.

Many people will assert that forced vaccines are a violation of personal rights, and in fact, nurses in particular have rebelled against such measures. Last December, the Massachusetts Nurses Association sued Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital over a mandatory vaccination policy which threatened to terminate nurses who refused the vaccination. In response, a union spokesman said "we want vaccinations up. We don t want to do so by violating the rights of the nurses.

But claiming mandatory vaccinations are a violation of rights is a red herring. The vaccine is safe and effective and (except in a select few rare cases) does no harm, which is more than I can say about a health care worker who won't accept a quick and simple jab.