As a stronger-than-normal influenza outbreak sweeps the nation, a growing list of groups are recommending mandatory flu vaccinations for all healthcare workers.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) has urged mandatory immunizations, except for staff with valid medical reasons or religious objections. The ACP estimates that 40,000 to 50,000 Americans die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. The American Medical Association endorsed mandatory shots for nursing-home employees with direct patient contact. The American Nurses Association backs mandatory shots if required by individual states.
Mandatory immunization appears to be the standard policy for healthcare workers at Dallas-Fort Worth hospitals.
“We crafted our policy to provide an avenue for those legitimate exceptions while maintaining full protection for our patients,” said Steven Leach, MD, chief medical officer for UT Southwestern university hospitals, and professor of internal medicine. “Not only do we expect unvaccinated employees to wear a mask, but also anyone who may have symptoms of a respiratory infection, whether vaccinated or not.”
The vaccination policy includes UTSW faculty, staff, and students working or training in its hospitals and clinics. They must be immunized or decline in writing for medical, religious, or personal reasons by Nov. 15. Vaccinations are provided free of charge.
Adam Myers, MD, chief medical officer of Methodist Health System, said “most Methodist Health System employees and volunteers have already received the vaccination.”
Wendell Watson, Texas Health Resources (THR) director of public relations for, said THR revised the its immunization policy in 2011 to require its employees be immunized with flu vaccine as a condition of employment. Employees exempted for medical, religious or personal reasons must wear a mask during flu season in THR facilities that provide patient care.
Laurie Holloway, spokesperson for Children’s Medical Center, said the hospital has required flu shots for employees for two years. Requests for exemptions are reviewed by a committee and, if the exemption is denied through an appeals process, the employee must be vaccinated or face termination, she said.
Baylor Health Care System also requires flu vaccinations for its employees. Those without an exemption who fail to do so face termination.
A survey by CDC researchers found that in 2011, more than 400 U.S. hospitals required flu vaccinations for their employees and 29 hospitals fired unvaccinated employees. According to federal data, only 63 percent of all health care workers had gotten the vaccine as of November. The government is aiming for a 90 percent vaccination rate among healthcare workers by 2020.
According to a December study in the journal Vaccine, Texas is among several states requiring flu vaccination for healthcare personnel. However only three—Arkansas, Maine and Rhode Island—have penalties for those who refuse.
The flu vaccine is effective 62 percent of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) . Through May, about 41 percent of Texas were vaccinated for the flu. According to the CDC, 1 out of 3 patients with an acute respiratory infection at a Texas test site in late December and early January tested positive for the flu.
Flu deaths have been rising and have exceeded the CDC’s threshold of epidemic.
Steve Jacob is editor of D Healthcare Daily and author of Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at [email protected]