November 20 2013
Health care workers unquestionably play a critical role in helping patients get well. However, when patients go to health care facilities, they may contract infections that can pose serious threats to their health and safety, particularly those who are elderly or already ill. While influenza can be easily transmitted in health care settings, it is at least somewhat preventable through vaccination. Each year, up to 15 percent of the U.S. population is infected by influenza, and the illness kills on average 24,000 people a year. In some of these cases, the infection is acquired while a patient is being treated in a health care facility.
Although approximately 60 percent effective, annual influenza vaccination is our best weapon against influenza transmission. This is why requirements for annual influenza vaccination of health care workers are in place across the United States. These requirements, however, are not uniform, varying widely by state and hospital. While many states have laws that require hospitals to educate their employees about the risks of influenza and the benefits of vaccination and to offer influenza vaccination to them, state laws typically do not require employees to actually receive the flu shot.