WASHINGTON, December 17 (By Sasha Horne for RIA Novosti) Get an influenza vaccination or get fired!
That is the ultimatum facing a growing number of healthcare workers in the United States, as hospitals across the country implement flu vaccine mandates, despite objections from employees questioning the validity of the new policies.
“Personally, I believe it is both a professional and an ethical responsibility that every healthcare worker be vaccinated,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
For years hospitals have worked to increase employee vaccination rates through voluntary programs including educational workshops, offering free flu shots during employee work hours, and even financial incentives. But vaccination rates among healthcare workers remain low.
"We've been working on this now for over a decade and seem to be stuck at a vaccination rate of around 60 percent," said Schaffner, referring to voluntary vaccination programs.
Among US hospitals that have flu shot mandates, the vaccination rate is much higher, 95 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 15 states currently require healthcare workers get the flu vaccine under some circumstances.
An increasing number of hospitals in states such as California, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have implemented mandates as well, and in many of those states the policies have been met with opposition.
Earlier this month, dozens of employees at Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut refused to get their flu shots, according to media reports. It wasn’t until after hospital officials threated the workers with unpaid suspension that all but two employees submitted to the directive.
“There are few hardcore people who are holding out, and that’s their prerogative,” said Steven Aronin, chief of infectious disease at Waterbury Hospital in an interview with The Hartford Courant.
Earlier this month, a union representing healthcare workers in the Northeast filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the Rhode Island Health Department from implementing new state regulations requiring workers either get the flu vaccine or wear a mask during patient contact, The Providence Journal reported. The union argued the mandate violates its right to bargain on these issues.
Similar reports of either legal action or employees protesting flu shot mandates have been reported in several other states including Wisconsin, Ohio, and Colorado.
But hospital administrators have said they will not bend on the issue when the matter of patient safety is at hand.
“If you are not vaccinated, and you don’t have a medical or religious reason that exempts you from being vaccinated, you’ll have to find employment elsewhere,” said Schaffner, an advocate for mandatory healthcare worker flu vaccinations.
“[The vaccine] helps keep the workers healthy, it helps keeps the patients healthy, and the patients are our priority,” he added.