APIC (the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc.) has joined the chorus of other professional infection control and medical organizations (including SHEA, IDSA, & AAP) who are calling for mandatory yearly flu vaccinations for healthcare workers (HCWs).
If this story sounds a bit like Deja Flu, you probably recall that in October of 2008 APIC released a similar statement (see APIC Seeking Mandatory Flu Shot For HCWs), but in that case provided for an informed `opt out clause’ if HCWs signed a declination form saying they understood the risks to patients.
The new statement eliminates that escape clause, recommending that that hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities employing HCWs:
“require influenza immunization as a condition of employment unless there are compelling medical contraindications."
You can read the entire 4-page position paper, outlining their recommendations and rationale behind them, on the APIC home page.
The paper also calls for those who are exempted for medical reasons to:
“. . . be educated on the importance of careful adherence to all of the non-vaccine related HICPAC prevention strategies, including hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
Further, they may be required to wear a surgical mask when contact with patients or susceptible employees is likely. “
Over the past year several other professional medical organizations have made similar calls for mandatory vaccinations.
While strongly advocating HCW influenza vaccination, the CDC has stopped short of mandating them. I blogged on this back on June 23rd, 2010 in CDC: Proposed Influenza Infection Control Guidance.
Similarly, a UK Department of Health report issued in June 2010 called Learning The Lessons From the H1N1 Vaccination Campaign For Healthcare Workers – while not mandating vaccination – stresses the `professional duty’ of all HCWs to get the vaccine.
New York State attempted to require vaccination as a requirement to work as a HCW in 2009, but legal challenges and vaccine shortages forced them to abandon – at least temporarily – that mandate (see New York Rescinds Mandatory Flu Shots For HCWs).
While many infection control experts see this as a long overdue step in patient and co-worker protection, the obstacles that lay before these sorts of policies are substantial.
This is a hugely divisive issue, with many HCWs believing that it is an infringement of their rights to decide what will be injected into their bodies.
There will almost certainly be legal challenges, and possibly labor disputes as well. I’ve covered HCW’s objections to forced flu shots in the past, including:
Only a few large hospitals have thus far managed to implement mandatory flu vaccinations, including Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center and BJC Heathcare of St. Louis, Missouri which I blogged about here
Over the past 5 years Virginia Mason MC has maintained a 98% vaccination rate, and has vigorously promoted the uptake of flu shots not only in the workplace, but the greater community as well.
An abstract from a study that appeared in the August 2010 Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology journal concludes that a policy of mandatory HCW vaccination is feasible, sustainable, and effective.
Robert M. Rakita, MD; Beverly A. Hagar, BSN, COHNS; Patricia Crome, MN; Joyce K. Lammert, MD, PhD
In the first year of the program, there were a total of 4,703 HCWs, of whom 4,588 (97.6%) were vaccinated, and influenza vaccination rates of more than 98% were sustained over the subsequent 4 years of our study. Less than 0.7% of HCWs were granted an accommodation for medical or religious reasons and were required to wear a mask at work during influenza season, and less than 0.2% of HCWs refused vaccination and left Virginia Mason Medical Center.
And, when combined with increased calls from infection control organizations to adopt similar practices, likely to inspire other facilities to follow suit.