Study: Hospital Worker Flu Shots Could Mean Fewer Deaths

January 29, 2021
Jill Murphy, Associate Editor

All the states that passed laws require flu vaccines to be offered to hospital employees.

New research from the University of Georgia shows that state laws promoting flu vaccinations for hospital workers can substantially reduce the number of influenza-rated deaths, according to a press release.

The study authors examined the mortality rate from influenza and pneumonia during peak flu season, or December through March of each year, comparing changes in mortality over time in the 13 states and Washington, DC, that adopted laws to the changes in mortality in states without laws.

All the states that passed laws require flu vaccines to be offered to hospital employees. Additionally, 11 states took it a step further by mandating that workers be vaccinated or required documentation of refusal, with 3 requiring unvaccinated employees to wear surgical masks during flu season, according to the study authors.

Previous research has suggested that hospital workers may serve as vectors of disease transmission within their hospitals and even in their communities, which aligns with the findings in the recent study. States that mandated hospital workers to receive flu shots saw the biggest reduction in mortality from flu and pneumonia. On average, the adoption of a law promoting vaccination reduced mortality by approximately 2 deaths per 100,000 persons, with the reductions primarily occurring among older adult populations.

“The elderly are extremely vulnerable to influenza and are also generally less responsive to the vaccine,” said study author Emily Lawler, assistant professor in UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs, in a press release. “This study suggests that vaccinating hospital workers against influenza reduces influenza disease transmission and helps protect this vulnerable population.”

A federal mandate requiring hospital workers to get an annual flu shot would likely further reduce influenza-related deaths, according to the study authors.

This study did not closely examine why some health care workers refuse vaccines. However, if the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines are proven to prevent disease transmission, which have been shown to protect the vaccinated individual from disease, then vaccinating hospital workers could be integral to dramatically reducing transmission of COVID-19 and mortality in communities across the country, according to the study.

“Stricter policies result in higher vaccination rates among health care workers,” Lawler said in a press release. “Our results are consistent with the idea that these stronger laws result in a larger reduction in influenza-related mortality.”

In some cases, health care workers refuse to get vaccinated. This can be an issue with the flu shot, which varies in efficacy each year due to the limitation of vaccine developers only being able to include several strains of the virus in a given shot. However, it can also occur with the new COVID-19 vaccines at a surprisingly high rate among health care professionals, nursing home workers, and other frontline personnel.

REFERENCE

Hospital worker flu shots could mean fewer deaths. UGA Today. https://news.uga.edu/hospital-worker-flu-shots-could-mean-fewer-deaths/. Published January 26, 2021. Accessed January 27, 2021.