Flu vaccines should be compulsory for all health-care workers because their patients’ lives are at risk. The time has come for healthcare institutions to demand that all healthcare workers be vaccinated. Our patients’ lives depend on this change. But each season, 20 percent of health workers get the flu.
Healthcare workers are at high risk for contracting influenza through their exposure to high risk patients. The CDC has classified healthcare workers as a high priority group for yearly vaccinations that are highly effective at preventing influenza.
Not only are healthcare workers in danger of contracting influenza, they can also spread the illness to their family and to patients. Employers have a duty to create a safe work environment. Encouraging influenza vaccination for their healthcare employees is one method of doing this.
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) acknowledges that influenza immunization of healthcare workers is of vital importance. On January 1, 2007, JCAHO began requiring, as part of their accreditation process, that organizations institute annual influenza programs, including offering vaccination on-site and promoting healthcare worker participation.
Individuals at high risk for flu complications, and their close contacts, should be vaccinated yearly. People at high risk include children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, adults over 50, individuals with certain medical conditions, pregnant woman, and people in long term care facilities and nursing homes.
Influenza is still one of the top deadliest communicable diseases of our time. Our country can continue to have a top notch medical care system if we implement innovative solutions such as mandatory vaccination programs for HCWs. Just like the vitamin D that is added into our milk to supplement calcium absorption, the influenza vaccine provides added protection to our immune system to decrease our risk of contracting the highly infectious flu virus. There’s a lot at stake if we do nothing, and that is why we should commend the medical and public health institutions for continuing on the path of prevention and addressing the most important aspect of health care: patient safety and positive health outcomes.
The development of vaccines has been recognized as one of the top 10 achievements in public health during the 20th century. Without this innovation, the rate of infection would climb, and with the number of deaths inevitably following that trend. Unfortunately, influenza has no cure and at times, can be fatal, especially to higher risk groups such as the elderly, children under the age of five, pregnant women and individuals with certain medical conditions. Wikipedia notes that the influenza virus is associated with 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the US. From a local perspective, 36,000 deaths amount to filling up all Maryland’s acute care beds three times over capacity or having over a third of all students in Baltimore county schools come down with the flu.
Even without making it mandatory, employers can make a difference by promoting vaccination through educational campaigns, by providing incentives and making vaccine easily available at no cost. Some 75 percent of workers whose institutions promoted vaccination got the flu vaccine. Employers need to press more of their workers to do so.