Impatient | Helping make the health care system work for you
Health

Should flu shots be mandatory for health care workers?



In Los Angeles County, health care employees must get a flu shot - or wear a protective mask.
In Los Angeles County, health care employees must get a flu shot - or wear a protective mask.
/iStockphoto

If you, or a loved one, end up in a hospital in Los Angeles County during this flu season, the health care workers who treat you will either be vaccinated against the flu – or will wear a protective mask.

That was ordered by the LA County Department of Public Health in 2013 - to both protect health care workers from contracting the flu, and to prevent them from transmitting it to patients.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related complications each year. That begs the question: Should flu shots be mandatory for health care workers? Or are there other effective ways of preventing the spread of flu in hospitals?

Patients and hospital employees, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!

Vaccination rates at hospitals

In an effort to increase flu vaccination rates among health care workers, California law requires hospitals to offer free flu shots – if a hospital staffer chooses not to be vaccinated, he must sign a declination form. Hospitals are required to report their vaccination rates to the state Department of Public Health.

During the 2012-2013 flu season - the most recent data available - the average vaccination rate among health care workers at hospitals throughout the state was 74 percent.

But among L.A. County hospitals, vaccination rates among hospital employees varied widely.

For example:

Remember: Those figures are from the 2012-2013 flu season – and before the county instituted its vaccinate-or-mask policy. Since then, the thought of wearing a protective mask for the duration of flu season (considered November 1 to March 31) could certainly have pushed more people into the vaccinated category.

Strategies to increase vaccination

I've heard that some L.A.-area hospitals have recently implemented other strategies that are intended to increase vaccination among health care workers. I'll talk more about that in a future post.

And across the country, some hospitals have gone as far as mandating that health care workers get a flu vaccine - as a condition of employment.

Those policies have been met with mixed reactions. For example, in September, the Massachusetts Nurses Association sued Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital over a policy that would require nurses to get flu shots if they want to keep working there, according to the Boston Globe.

Patients and health care workers: Do you think L.A. County's order - requiring hospital staff to vaccinate or wear a protective mask - goes far enough? Would you like to see hospitals take the extra step of requiring health care workers to get a flu vaccination as a condition of employment?

Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.