LTC caregivers had lowest rates of vaccination in 2011-12 flu season

What can be a nasty flu to most people can be a life-threatening illness to some senior citizens. But the healthcare workers least likely to have been vaccinated against the seasonal flu were caregivers who work with the elderly every day, according to the September 28 “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report” from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the 2011-2012 flu season, only 50.2 percent of long-term care nurses and physicians surveyed had received the vaccine, the lowest rate among medical caregivers. Hospital physicians had the highest rate of vaccination at 86.7 percent.

These statistics surface amid the longstanding arguments concerning whether healthcare workers have a “duty” to be vaccinated, and whether their health company employers have the right to require them to receive a vaccine.

The Immunization Action Coalition has collected position statements from at least 13 national healthcare groups, affirming support of required vaccines for healthcare workers.

Some advocacy groups are concerned about the safety of the injections, which come into contact with animal protein, formaldehyde and other ingredients during manufacturing. In 2011, the British Journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases published a literature review stating that seasonal vaccines “can provide moderate protection against virologically confirmed influenza, but such protection is greatly reduced or absent in some seasons” and among certain age groups. Legal advocates are upset about the idea of forcing healthcare workers to receive an injection—some healthcare facilities have threatened to fire employees who don’t comply.

In January, amid strong opposition to forced vaccinations, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have required healthcare workers in that state to get a flu shot. But last week, the New York Times ran an editorial saying healthcare workers are obligated to get vaccinated.

For now, some states have compromised by requiring workers who decline to be immunized to wear masks while working.

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