According to the CDC, the national average of employee immunizations is 77% in hospitals and 52% in long term care facilities. Employers that work with their employees to develop a comprehensive flu prevention education program have achieved vaccination rates over 80% or 90%. Our union encourages all members to get the flu vaccine as it protects yourself, your patients and your family.
Facilities are being asked to begin to publicly report their flu vaccination rates in 2013. This has led some hospitals to require vaccination or wearing a surgical mask as a condition of employment. Mandating the flu vaccine is a surefire way to quickly increase vaccination rates, but is the goal numbers or actual public protection?
As far as the argument that vaccinating workers is necessary to protect patients, the evidence is not there. In a recent report in the Australian and New Zealand Public Health Journal, authors argue that there is a sizeable gap between the science-based evidence that vaccinating HCWs protects patients and the flurry of guidelines by many organizations with financial conflicts of interest promoting such mandatory programs. “The literature advocating universal HCW influenza vaccination resembles an inverted pyramid – a large review and commentary articles supported by a very small number of empirical studies carried out in long-term care settings.”
Finally there is no scientific evidence and no federal agency that supports the wearing of surgical masks by unvaccinated healthy healthcare workers to protect patients. According to Dr. Neil Fishman, President of Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America,“When it comes to mandatory masking of unvaccinated HCWs, we didn’t think the evidence base was strong enough to make that a formal recommendation.” According to the CDC the three recommended times for wearing a surgical mask are: when protecting HCP from infectious materials,
to protect patients when ‘sterile technique’ symptoms exist. The CDC also says that gloves should be worn when a mask is worn.
There are studies that say masks will interfere with patient communication possibly leading to medical errors or misinterpretation, and potential workplace violence. The frequent adjusting of the mask increases hand/nose/eye contact and heightens the chances of the mask wearer to get a respiratory infection.We believe the vaccine should be provided free of charge, on the worksite, during working hours to all who want it. Because, we as a nation do not condone forcing medical treatment on individuals, we feel that one should be able to decline for religious, medical, or philosophical reasons.
We believe that masking of healthy individuals is nothing more than a ‘scarlet letter,’ not based on sound advice and should not be enforced. At the same time we feel that pharmaceutical companies should be striving to produce a longer lasting, more effective vaccine.