Photo Credit – CDC PHIL
In an editorial today, the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) endorsed requiring HCWs (Health Care Workers) to get a seasonal flu shot, thus joining a growing list of medical associations around the world calling for similar policies.
First, the press release followed by a link to the editorial, then I’ll return with more.
All health care workers in health care institutions should be vaccinated with the annual influenza vaccine to protect patients, argues an editorial in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Each season, 20% of health care workers get influenza, and 28% of young healthy adults who get it have asymptomatic or subclinical infections," writes Dr. Ken Flegel, Senior Associate Editor, CMAJ. "Some of them may shed virus up to a day before symptoms appear. It is time that all people who work in a health care institution be vaccinated."
In Canada, there are approximately 20 000 hospital admissions related to influenza and an estimated 4000 to 8000 deaths attributed to the illness. However, 55%% of physicians do not get vaccinated against the flu and are putting patients at risk of illness and death.
Dr. Flegel argues that flu vaccination for health workers must be compulsory, although there could be exemptions for medical or religious reasons. A vaccination rate above 90% is required to prevent outbreaks in hospitals. Mandatory programs for health care workers in many US institutions have resulted in participation rates of about 95%.
"Our schools have shown us the way. During measles outbreaks, access to schools has been successfully denied to nonvaccinated children and staff. The time has come for health care institutions to demand that all health care workers be vaccinated. Our patients' lives depend on this change," Dr. Flegel concludes.
You can read the entire editorial at this link:
October 29, 2012
We know that health care workers import and transmit seasonal influenza to patients. We know that many patients get seriously ill from it and that some die. We know that the annual influenza vaccine can interrupt most of this imposed disease burden. It is time that we act on our knowledge and require all health care workers to be vaccinated.
Despite vocal resistance from some HCWs and their unions, calls for mandatory flu vaccination for health care workers have been coming from many professional organizations for several years.
A few earlier blogs on these include:
In 2011, the following editorial opinion appeared in The Lancet.
The Lancet, Volume 378, Issue 9788, Pages 310 - 311, 23 July 2011
This perspective was penned by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., who is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, and addresses the ethics of mandating yearly influenza vaccination for Health Care Workers (HCWs).
Caplan argues that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that vaccinating HCWs helps to protect patients from infection (and possible death), and that the influenza vaccine is both safe and effective.
Citing language common to all oaths sworn by health care professionals (Doctors, Nurses, Techs, etc.), he points out the universal concept that the interests of the patient must come first, and that all HCWs must honor the core medical principal of, “First, do no harm.”
Both tenets, he argued, are violated when HCWs fail to accept a yearly flu vaccination.
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.
And earlier this month we saw Rhode Island Adopts New Flu Vaccination Requirements For HCPs.
Although many infection control experts see this as a long overdue step in patient and employee protection, compulsory vaccination remains 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.
I’ve covered some of the HCW’s objections to forced flu shots in the past, including:
While their concerns over the vaccine’s safety may be overblown, one of their arguments that does carry some weight is the relative effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
It simply isn’t as good as with other vaccines.
Most years (see CIDRAP: The Need For `Game Changing’ Flu Vaccines), protection from the flu shot runs under 60% for healthy adults, and probably even less for those over 65 or with weakened immune systems.
Having a better flu vaccine would remove at least one of the objections that many HCWs have voiced.
Popular with HCWs or not, hospitals are increasingly looking at this as both a liability and an economic issue. Unless the courts intervene, the momentum increasingly appears to be moving towards mandating yearly flu shots for many Health Care Workers down the road.