As summer comes to a close and the influenza virus starts calling open season on our immune systems, one would hope that health-care workers have gotten their CDC-prescribed yearly flu shot by now — especially given their high rates of job-related exposure to infectious disease and their easy access to the vaccine. Guess again. According to a 2009 RAND Corporation survey of health-care workers around the country, nearly 40% of health-care providers had not been inoculated by this time last year. About 12% of survey participants said they had intended to get the flu shot, but had yet to do so by the beginning of last year’s infamous H1N1 flu season. Now, two public health organizations have teamed up to propose mandatory vaccinations for health workers for the coming year.
Hospital workers avoiding the flu vaccine piques suspicion — like a chef who won’t eat in his own restaurant. So why were so many survey respondents negligent in getting immunized? The reasons were varied. Twenty-two percent of those surveyed appeared to think they were invincible, answering simply, “I don’t need it.” Alarmingly, 21% said they didn’t “believe in” flu vaccines. Others thought the shot would make them sick, or didn’t like needles. Some reported that “others need it more than I do.”
Such selflessness aside, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America and the Infectious Disease Society of America are calling this behavior unethical and unprofessional. They have collaborated on a proposal to make flu shots mandatory for those working in the health-care field.
If mandatory vaccination seems like an invasion of privacy, the new proposal points out that all health-care workers are already required to have tuberculosis screenings and several standard immunizations. So far, at least one governing body, the State of New York Department of Health, has made flu vaccination a requirement for employment. Perhaps more health departments and hospitals will follow suit.