|Choice should be Mandatory|
Despite resistance from some employees, more state hospitals this year are making flu shots mandatory for all workers, and some have even suspended or dismissed a handful who have not complied. This year, 19 of the 29 acute care hospitals in the state require that all employees get flu vaccinations. It's a sharp increase from last year, when there were only five. State health officials did not name the hospitals.There has been dissent from some employees. At Waterbury Hospital, dozens of employees initially refused to get a flu shot, but after being threatened with unpaid suspension and possible dismissal, only two full-time employees had failed to get a vaccination or exemption by Wednesday. They have been suspended. "There are a few hardcore people who are holding out, and that's their prerogative," said Steven Aronin, chief of infectious diseases at Waterbury Hospital. If those employees get the shot, he said, "they can come back immediately."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospitals that require flu shots for employees had 95 percent compliance, while those that didn't had vaccination rates of 68 percent. Religious and medical exemptions are allowed at most hospitals that have mandatory vaccine policies. Employees with a history of adverse reactions to the shot, have certain allergies or have a compromised immune system can get the medical exemption. Religious exemptions vary. Children's Medical Center requires a note from the person's spiritual leader, explaining objections to the vaccines. At Hartford Hospital, the employee can write their own note explaining their objections. Those who do get exemptions must wear masks during flu season.
Earlier this year, the Connecticut Hospital Association adopted a statewide policy endorsing mandatory flu vaccination for hospital staff. Nationally, Nancy Foster of the American Hospital Association said more hospitals appear to be implementing mandatory policies. Her organization doesn't specifically recommend mandatory programs, but noted that hospitals should do what's necessary to get high vaccination rates. "Patients have compromised immune systems often because of whatever they came to the hospital for in the first place or because of medication, so they're more vulnerable," Foster said, adding that for those at risk, influenza can lead to pneumonia. "It can be fatal for the elderly and the young." Susan MacArthur, director of infection prevention at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford, said Waterbury Hospital seems to be going through the "growing pains" that her hospital went through last year when it began its mandatory vaccine program. "Last year, we had many more questions and pushback," MacArthur said. The hospital eventually dismissed five employees who refused the vaccination and who hadn't qualified for exemptions. This year was much easier, she said, although, two per diem employees who didn't get the shot were dismissed. "This year, everyone just rolled up their sleeves and got a shot," she said. "It's that first year. No one likes change."
Vaccine Exemption Forms