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HICprevent

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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

SHEA: Mandate 'em. Don't get me started on flu shots

January 12th, 2015

I’m not going to start off by solemnly noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had a standing recommendation to immunize health care workers against seasonal influenza for more than a quarter century. Well, there it is, a reiterated point with the dust freshly blown off.

Sorry, it’s just that I have to occasionally write it to believe it. Was there ever a public health recommendation -- as Hamlet might ask – “honored more in the breach than the observance” than this one? The relatively recent move by some hospitals to mandate the shots, does not exactly fall into the “rush to judgment” category.

After the CDC recently reported that health care worker immunization rate has now risen to a staggering 63% -- meaning more than a third of workers still could not be bothered to protect vulnerable patients from influenza – somebody at SHEA snapped. In a good way of course.

But the esteemed Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America felt it necessary to reissue its 2010 paper calling for mandatory flu shots. All these guys do all day is think about bugs, so we ignore their advice at the patient’s peril.

The CDC also reported that rates in the 98% range are now common when flu vaccination is a condition of employment. What a novel concept, that you would have to be immunized against one of the most common and recurrent infections in history to care for that preemie baby or the soldier with no immune system to speak of because he is awaiting a bone marrow transplant. Is it unethical to be a health care provider and refuse a seasonal flu shot? Yes, it is. As someone once observed, you know it, I know it, and the American people know it.

“As healthcare providers, we are ethically obligated to take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of viruses such as influenza and to keeping our patients, fellow workers and ourselves safe from acquiring the virus in healthcare settings,” said Steve Gordon, MD, president of SHEA. “The data from the CDC’s study demonstrates the effectiveness of policies that makes vaccination a requirement for employment.”

I’m not going to end by solemnly noting that the CDC has had a standing recommendation to immunize health care workers against seasonal influenza for more than a quarter century. Well, there it is…