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Should Hospitals Require Flu Shots for Staff?

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By    |   Wednesday, 09 Dec 2015 04:52 PM

About four in 10 U.S. hospitals require flu shots for staff, according to a new survey of infection prevention specialists who say the findings underscore concerns about the risk to patients in American medical centers.

Each year, influenza sickens millions of Americans and kills tens of thousands — posing particular risks to seniors, children, and individuals with health problems and weak immune systems who are more likely seek hospital treatment.

Multiple national recommendations urge all healthcare workers to get the flu shot, to reduce the chances they will pass the virus on to their patients. But widespread reports of the flu-shot’s shortcomings and the rights of healthcare workers to refuse the vaccine in recent years may be driving down vaccination rates.

In a paper published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System report a survey of hospital disease prevention specialists conducted in 2013. It found more than half of the 386 medical centers surveyed don't require their doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers to get vaccinated against the flu.

In all, 42.7 percent said their hospital required flu vaccination of all healthcare providers. The rate at VA hospitals was very low: 1.3 percent. Since the time of the survey, the VA system has encouraged its hospitals to work toward near-universal vaccination by the year 2020. That's in line with the recommendations set out for all healthcare workers by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"Vaccination of healthcare workers has been shown to significantly reduce patients' risk of influenza and its complications, including pneumonia and death, compared with vaccination of patients alone," said Dr. Sanjay Saint, senior author of the new study. "To put it bluntly, American hospitals have a lot of work to do."

Many prevention specialists surveyed said opposition from healthcare worker unions or concerns about staff opposition was keeping their hospitals from requiring vaccination.
Todd Greene, lead author of the new study and a research investigator at UM and the VA, noted mandate vaccines in healthcare settings remain highly controversial for a variety of reasons.

"Mandated vaccinations are not a simple panacea and will continue to be met with challenges and opposition for numerous reasons," he said. "But our findings suggest that opportunities remain for many healthcare organizations to require vaccination of their staff to increase coverage rates."

The researchers noted that the flu vaccine does not guarantee immunity from influenza, but it does reduce the severity of the disease for those who catch it.

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Just over 42 percent of U.S. hospitals require flu shots for staff, according to a new survey of infection prevention specialists who say the findings underscore concerns about the risk to patients in American medical centers.
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Wednesday, 09 Dec 2015 04:52 PM
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