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You’re encouraging all of your patients to get the flu shot, but what about your employees? Flu vaccination among health care workers has been shockingly low over the last few years, leaving many urgent cares wondering: should you mandate flu vaccines for urgent care employees?
It’s a topic of much debate, but the answer is “yes” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. Each agency recommends all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against the flu.
According to the CDC, over the last few years, flu vaccination among health care workers during the early flu season has held steady at around 63%. That means nearly half of health care workers aren’t getting vaccinated, putting patients and employees who are unable to get vaccinated at risk of catching the flu.
Why aren’t health care workers getting vaccinated? The CDC says that the most common reason health care workers don’t get the flu shot is because they don’t think it works. The second most common reason? They think they don’t need it.
Creating the seasonal flu vaccine isn’t the gamble many people think it is. More than 100 national influenza centers in more than 100 countries conduct year-round surveillance of the flu, which involves receiving and testing thousands of flu virus samples from patients. This data is used by the World Health Organization to create a recommendation for each season’s flu vaccine. This is quite an oversimplification of the process, of course, but the point remains: the flu vaccine is well-researched.
But does it work? The CDC’s research indicates that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu by 50 to 60 percent among the general population when the circulating virus is the vaccine virus. The flu vaccine can also reduce the severity and duration of illness if you do get sick.
So if the vaccine isn’t 100 percent effective, why should urgent care employees get it?
Getting the flu shot improves both patient and employee safety. Urgent care employees who aren’t vaccinated run the risk of becoming infected through contact with infected patients or infected coworkers. They may also spread the flu to patients and coworkers. A study cited by the National Institute of Health found that if all health care workers in a facility were vaccinated, then approximately 60 percent of patient influenza infections could be prevented. A 2013 study found that vaccination coverage climbed to 96.5 percent in health care facilities that required the vaccine. Vaccination coverage was 76.9 percent among health care workers at facilities where employers promoted but did not require vaccination. In other words, mandating your employees get vaccinated works.
The flu shot requirement may be even more relevant for urgent care employees because most clinics offer the vaccine to other employers through occupational medicine outreach.
“Getting a flu shot is one of the easiest and safest ways to protect yourself from illness this time of year. Those who work in and for health care organizations should understand that better than anyone,” said Dr. David Stern, CEO of Practice Velocity, where employees who get flu shots are offered a discount on their health insurance premium.
What should you tell employees who are worried about getting the flu from the vaccine? The flu shot does not cause the flu. Vaccines are made with either an inactive virus or no virus at all. The most common side effects from the flu shot are: soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the shot. Low-grade fever, headache or muscle ache is also possible.
In other words, tell them to get vaccinated.