Pediatricians Back Mandatory Flu Vaccines for Health Workers

Low immunization rates prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to urge mandatory influenza vaccines for health care professionals.

Health care professionals should be required to take a dose of their own medicine, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). A new policy statement issued by the AAP’s Committee on Infection Diseases advocates mandatory flu vaccines for physicians, nurses, and other health care workers.

The group representing pediatricians says immunization rates among those involved in patient care are “unacceptably low,” and that a mandatory policy is “ethically justified, necessary, and long overdue to ensure patient safety.” The report was published online September 13, 2010, in the journal Pediatrics.

In the past, health care facilities have instituted voluntary campaigns focused on providing free, convenient access to vaccination services. Some plans required employees to sign “declination forms,” indicating they were aware of the risks associated with their refusal to vaccinate.

Despite these efforts, immunization rates for health care professionals remain at approximately 40%, according to the report. That number is well below the Joint Commission’s target rate of 80% or higher, which the agency estimates is needed to establish “herd immunity” strong enough to reduce the transmission of flu virus in health care facilities.

Suboptimal immunization rates do not appear to be impacted by the threat or severity of an outbreak, nor are they limited to hospitals and physicians’ offices. During last year’s H1N1 pandemic, only 34.7% of health care professionals received both the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine, APP reported. A 250-person survey conducted last fall by Pharmacy Times found that only 49% of pharmacists were vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.

Vaccination of health care professionals is critical, and not simply because they are at greater risk of exposure. “Many individuals at high risk of influenza and its associated complications are in frequent, close contact with [health care professionals] because of their need to seek inpatient and outpatient medical services,” the authors noted.

By receiving treatment from unvaccinated physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, these vulnerable patients may unknowingly expose themselves to unnecessary health risks. The report also cites the common practice of “presenteeism,” or working while sick, as a major contributor to the spread of the flu virus by health care professionals.

According to AAP, the only sensible solution to these mounting concerns is a mandatory vaccination policy. “For the prevention and control of influenza, now is the time to put the health and safety of the patient first,” the authors wrote.

For other articles in this issue, see:

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  • Streamlined Teleprompts Promote Medication Adherence
  • Pharmacy Times iPad App Unveiled