For the first time, Children’s Medical Center in Dallas will require all employees, contractors, volunteers and vendors to get influenza vaccinations this fall to protect the health and safety of the hospital’s patients.
The universal requirement is being enacted not only to protect patients, but also their families and the hospital’s workers, as well as to reduce absences at work, Children’s occupational health officials said.
Children’s Medical Center will provide the vaccinations at no cost to all hospital employees, medical and dental staff and volunteers. Hospital employees and volunteers are required to get the flu shots by Dec. 15.
The requirement is expected to affect nearly 5,700 Children’s Medical Center employees, approximately 800 hospital volunteers, 1,500 medical and dental staff and nearly 200 fellows and residents.
Since 2007, nearly 90 percent of the Children’s Medical Center’s employees have received flu vaccines each year. But the hospital is raising the bar higher this year to ensure patients and their families are not infected by workers and volunteers – including those who might appear to be in good health, but could be contagious before developing symptoms of the infectious respiratory illness and spreading it to others.
Other well-known children’s hospitals across the country have enacted flu vaccination requirements, including pediatric facilities in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Denver. Others fighting the flu with new requirements this year include children’s hospitals in Kansas City and Boston. Many hospitals for adult patients are following the same course of action. This program is endorsed by many professional societies including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
“Flu season is very serious for a health-care environment, especially in a pediatric facility,” says Carolyn Amrich, manager of the Occupational Health and Wellness Department at Children’s Medical Center. “We are demonstrating our commitment to our mission – ‘Making Life Better for Children’ – by vaccinating everyone who works here to protect the patients and anyone who works here. It is the right thing to do.”
Exemptions to the flu vaccination requirement will be made only for medical or religious reasons, which must be documented and submitted for a confidential expert review. Medical exemption requests must be signed by a physician.
Studies show the vaccine is 85 percent to 90 percent effective, dramatically reducing the spread of the infection. The vaccine is delivered through a shot or a nasal spray. The nasal mist is available only for people in good health between ages 2 and 49. Women who receive the nasal mist must not be pregnant.
The vaccine does not cause influenza illness, contrary to popular myth. The viruses contained in the vaccines are inactivated, weakened or killed during the manufacturing process, meaning they cannot cause infection. The most common side effect of the flu shot is soreness in the arm where the shot is given and of the nasal mist is a runny nose.
“Flu vaccination is the most effective means to prevent infection with influenza,” says Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of Children’s Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “The vaccine is safe. Getting the ‘flu’ from the shot is simply not true. The shot contains an inactivated virus that cannot cause infection.
“Furthermore, vaccination can prevent spread of the virus to individuals who are particularly susceptible to severe disease associated with influenza, such as infants and children with underlying medical conditions,” said Kahn, who is also a professor of pediatrics and microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Infection with influenza can lead to life-threatening disease.”
Children’s Medical Center workers, volunteers and vendors may get the flu shot elsewhere, but must provide documentation of the vaccination to the hospital’s occupational health department, including written proof of the manufacturer, the lot number, date of administration and the signature of the health care provider who gave the person the shot.