Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Should healthcare workers be forced to receive flu vaccine?

This question comes up every year - should healthcare workers be mandated to receive the influenza vaccine? A recent study suggests they should - but would this be a good idea or even enforceable? It's tricky.

Readers of this blog probably know that I am pro-vaccine. I've been vaccinated with all recommended vaccines, as were my children. I do receive the flu vaccine every year and have since

it became widely available. I also believe that people should be vaccinated against preventable and potentially fatal illnesses whenever possible. We also need to keep in mind that there are already vaccines that are mandatory in various professions. For example, when I was studying nursing, we had to prove we had been vaccinated against the childhood diseases before we were allowed to do our pediatric rotation. We had to be tested for TB before we were allowed to set foot in any hospital - adult or pediatric. If we didn't agree to this, we were not permitted to study nursing - and ultimately practice as nurses. So is the influenza vaccine any different? Perhaps.

Most other vaccines are either one-time doses or vaccines that need top ups every so often. The flu vaccine is a different one every year. The "regular" vaccines seem to have a higher rate of preventing illness than does the flu vaccine, but there are a lot of variables that can go into a flu shot's effectiveness, such as the vaccine doesn't always accurately target the year's flu strain, or it may be received around the same time the recipient has been exposed to the flu, which means it won't be able to prevent the infection.

Study says...

A study presented at the 2014 Annual Conference of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) looked at public health data from 2009 to 2012 in California to see how many people contracted the flu. The researchers found that for every 15 healthcare workers who did receive the flu vaccine, there was one fewer person in the community who became ill with influenza.

Last year, 12 counties in California, including Los Angeles, required that healthcare personnel receive the flu vaccine. Those who refused were required to wear a protective mask.

"This study suggests that there is a strong connection between how many healthcare personnel are vaccinated against the flu and how many cases of influenza-like illnesses are reported in the community," said James F. Marx, PhD, RN, CIC, investigator and founder of Broad Street Solutions, an infection prevention consultancy, in a release. "More research would be helpful to further understand the impact of vaccinating healthcare workers on community influenza rates."

Those who argue for mandatory vaccinations say that healthcare workers are dealing with the most vulnerable of the population, those who would be most adversely affected by being exposed to a virus like influenza. Those who are against it say that something like a vaccine cannot be forced on someone. What do you think?

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