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Flu Shot Programs Required for Health Care Organizations
 

By Eytan Hirsch  7/30/2012
 

While flu season likely won’t rear its ugly head for a few more months, a July 1, 2012, mandate by The Joint Commission is now requiring accredited health care organizations to establish annual influenza vaccination programs that urge all staff and licensed independent practitioners to get a flu shot.

Required flu vaccination for health care workers is a topic that has been debated for many years between unions, workers and health care facilities. One of the top concerns when it comes to flu prevention is that these individuals, whose work puts them in direct contact with patients, are often reluctant to get the shot.

In Tasmania, where it is currently winter, more locals are suffering from influenza than in 2011, and employers have reported a high number of workers calling in sick. This could bode ill for the Northern Hemisphere once flu season arrives in a few short months.

Health care personnel are in a position to help prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus, but many maintain that the decision about vaccination should be fully up to them and do not believe that it should be required or be a condition for employment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a survey in 2011 that revealed that 63.4 percent of health care workers were immunized against the flu by mid-November of that year. Yet in hospitals and health care systems that required them to do so, 98.1 percent reported that they received the vaccine.

A handful of states have already had laws in place that command immunization for health care workers, including New York, which became the first state to do so in the summer of 2009.

Otherwise, individual employers have usually had the final say. With this plan, however, employers will no longer have as much freedom when it comes to deciding whether to require the vaccine.

Forcing employees to receive the shot can bring up a number of sensitive issues. For instance, employees with allergies to eggs or with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome should avoid the flu shot. In addition, some employees might need to refuse the shot for religious reasons, such as rules that prohibit invasions of the body or that forbid the harming of animals in the making of a vaccine.

While The Joint Commission is technically not forcing the flu vaccine on all members of accredited organizations, the plan is strongly urging employers to ensure that all health care personnel are vaccinated. The mandate requires organizations to follow these additional steps:

  • Educate staff and practitioners about the vaccine; prevention measures outside the vaccination regime; and the diagnosis, transmission and impact of influenza.
  • Develop a strategy to meet incremental goals on the way to achieving a 90 percent flu vaccination rate by 2020. (The current rate among health care workers is below 60 percent.)

The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), supported in part by the CDC, is one organization in favor of the ideas stated in the new plan.

“The best way to prevent transmission of influenza to our patients is to mandate vaccination of health care workers,” reads the introduction to the IAC’s Honor Roll for Patient Safety, which includes more than 150 health care organizations in 38 states that have influenza vaccination mandates.

The CDC recommends organizations continue to promote efforts that focus on educating health care professionals about the effectiveness and safety of the flu shot and the role it can play in preventing influenza for themselves, their patients and their loved ones.

It also says that offering vaccination to health care personnel at workplaces might increase their coverage, as 77.8 percent of them received the vaccine at work as of mid-November 2011. It also suggests that providing the shot for free might increase vaccination as 19.9 percent of health care personnel cited “vaccine was offered free of charge” as one of the main reasons for receiving the flu shot.

“Influenza can spread rapidly in health care settings, and vaccination is the first and most important step health care personnel can take to protect against influenza,” the authors of the survey said.

Eytan Hirsch is a staff writer for SHRM.

Related Articles

Is Requiring Flu Vaccinations Worth the Risk?, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, February 2012

Experts: Encourage, Don’t Require, Flu Shots, SHRM Online Safety & Security Discipline, September 2011

North Carolina Health System Requires Flu Shots to Protect Patients, SHRM Online Legal Issues Discipline, State and Local Resources, January 2011

New York Issues Emergency Regulations Mandating Flu Vaccinations for Health Care Personnel, SHRM Online Legal Issues Discipline, State and Local Resources, August 2009

Flu Shots Help Employees Stay Well, Remain Productive, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, September 2008

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