Should Flu Shots be Mandatory for Healthcare Workers?

Dr. Paul Whelton, president and CEO of Loyola University Health System, receiving a flu shot. On Sept. 2, Whelton announced that seasonal flu shots will be mandatory for all employees.

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly recommends that all healthcare workers receive seasonal flu shots, only about 40 percent do so. Now, some infectious diseases experts and hospitals say flu shots should be mandatory.

For example, Loyola University Health System announced Sept. 2 that annual flu shots will be mandatory for all employees, faculty, medical and nursing students at its main hospital and suburban health centers. Loyola is among the first medical centers in the country to make flu shots mandatory. The policy will improve the safety of patients, visitors, employees and their families, said Dr. Paul Whelton, president and CEO.

Loyola health system and the Loyola University Chicago medical and nursing schools annually offer their employees, faculty and students a free vaccination for the seasonal flu. Last year when the seasonal flu shot was offered as part of an emergency-vaccination drill, Loyola and the Stritch School of Medicine school reached a vaccination rate of 73 percent. This year, with the vaccination being a condition of employment, the rate is expected to be 100 percent. Loyola University Medical Center has 6,140 employees; Stritch has 685.

Healthcare workers with direct patient contact at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, which became part of the Loyola University Health System one year ago, also will be part of the mandatory vaccination initiative.

Health experts at the CDC and elsewhere are predicting that the coming flu season may be a particularly difficult one with the presence of both seasonal flu and the novel H1N1 influenza. For 25 years, the CDC has strongly recommended that healthcare workers receive an annual vaccination for the seasonal flu.

"We know that the seasonal flu shot is safe and effective. It reduces infections and absenteeism among employees, prevents transmission to patients and reduces patient hospitalization and mortality," said Dr. Jorge Parada, medical director of infection control at LUHS. "We are committed to taking the right steps to minimize risk to our patients and our employees."

In mid-October, Loyola is planning a 36-hour vaccination drill at its main Maywood campus and its suburban health center locations. Although most employees will receive their vaccine during that drill, Loyola healthcare workers with direct patient contact are being encouraged to receive the flu vaccine within the next two weeks so that they will be better protected from the very start of the flu season.

Even though the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, the CDC says it is the "most effective method for preventing influenza virus infection and potentially severe complications."

 

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