Given the fact that we are in the midst of the largest measles outbreak in the United States in nearly 20 years, the importance of receiving the proper vaccination—for both the general public and healthcare providers—to help limit this outbreak is paramount. Additionally, with flu season approaching, the risk of catching and spreading this infectious disease increases significantly if vaccinations are not received. This holds especially true for providers who work with immunodeficient patients every day, as their immune systems are more susceptible to acquiring contagious viruses. To prevent putting themselves and their patients further at risk, it is necessary that providers get vaccinated.
However, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu vaccine rates among healthcare personnel remain relatively low (78.4%) in the United States. Some possible reasons why providers avoid flu or measles vaccinations are:
- Their hospitals do not mandate them
- A lack of incentives to cover the cost of vaccinations
- Individual forgetfulness
- The belief that vaccinations do not work and/or have serious side effects
Health organizations such as the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, and the CDC have evidence-based recommendations to increase vaccination rates among healthcare personnel. A comprehensive vaccination program must include educational campaigns, improved access to vaccinations, role models among senior staff members, and measurement and feedback mechanisms.
Although mandating vaccinations for employees is becoming more common, many providers refuse to partake. So how can hospital employers implement a mandatory program while protecting worker rights?
- At minimum, hospitals should implement a written vaccination-required policy. They must provide education on this mandatory program and provide appropriate channels for providers to inform refusal so that their concerns can be addressed.
- Vaccine exemption should be granted only to workers who are allergic to the vaccine, have some documented life-threatening reaction, or a physical or mental disability.
- Providers who do not have a valid medical reason for exemption and still choose not to be vaccinated should be denied access to patients during flu or measles outbreaks.
- Employers must make reasonable accommodations for providers who have strong religious beliefs.
- Employers must implement transmission-based precautions such as following good hand hygiene practices, wearing a mask, or restricting unvaccinated or susceptible workers to minimize patient contact. Also, all staff should use the correct respiratory protection if working with patients (e.g., N95 respirator).
Mandating certain vaccines is the best way to limit the impact of flu or measles in healthcare organizations. However, to avoid legal implications associated with mandatory vaccination, employers should also consider alternative options to encourage providers to voluntarily get their vaccines (e.g., incentive programs).
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