The CDC recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot, but only an estimated 41.8% of Americans received one during the 2011-12 flu season, leaving a large number of people unvaccinated. Reasons the general public give for avoidance range from worry about vaccine ingredients, to belief the vaccine can cause flu, to an inconvenience factor, but what about health care professionals?
The CDC recommends flu shots for people who live with or care for those who are at a high risk of developing serious complications (including health care professionals). Still a large percentage do not comply. In 2010, Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America President, Neil Fishman, MD, said “It’s the professional and ethical responsibility of all health care providers to prevent the spread of infections to patients. The influenza vaccine is the single best way to prevent the spread of [the flu].” (See post)
Recently, a Sermo doctor expressed concern that an intern in their hospital would not be getting a flu shot, which begs the question: What happens when a doctor decides not to get a flu shot?
Many hospitals have vaccination policies in place. Some are absolute like Johns Hopkins’. Their current policy states that “…the Johns Hopkins Institutions require health care providers to have [a] annual influenza vaccination or possess an approved qualified exemption.” Consequences of not receiving a vaccine (without an approved exemption) start with one week of unpaid administrative leave. If, at the end of that leave, the employee has not met the requirement, “the employee will be considered to have voluntarily resigned.”
Other institutions that have mandated flu vaccination for their health care personnel include the State of Rhode Island, Emory University (Atlanta), MedStar, as well as 38 of the 46 hospitals in the state of Maryland. Multiple professional associations support mandated influenza vaccination among health care personnel, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the National Patient Safety Foundation.
When Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois implemented a mandatory vaccination policy, less than 15 of their 8,000 employees chose automatic termination over being vaccinated. One of these 15, Joyce Gingerich, a cancer nurse, said she considered the mandate an “injustice of being forced to put something in my body.”
Similarly, George Gresham, the President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (the nation’s largest healthcare union), said “We have worked closely with hospitals, nursing homes and home care agencies to encourage workers to receive the flu vaccination, because we believe it protects our patients, our members and their families. However, we do not believe that employers should mandate vaccinations, because that eliminates the rights of workers to make a very personal choice about their health.”
Are mandatory flu vaccinations too far? What do you think? There has been considerable debate about this inside Sermo. If you’re an M.D. or a D.O. feel free to join the conversation there.