In July 2012, The Joint Commission mandated that accredited health care organizations establish annual influenza vaccination programs that urge all staff and licensed independent practitioners to get a flu shot. Required flu vaccination for health care workers is a topic that has been debated for many years between workers and health care facilities. One of the top concerns when it comes to flu prevention is that these individuals, whose work puts them in direct contact with patients, are often reluctant to get the shot. Health care personnel are in a position to help prevent the spread of the potentially deadly virus, but many maintain that the decision about vaccination should be fully up to them and do not believe that it should be required or be a condition for employment.
A handful of states have already had laws in place that command immunization for health care workers, including New York, which became the first state to do so in the summer of 2009. Otherwise, individual employers have usually had the final say.
Forcing employees to receive the shot can bring up a number of sensitive issues. For instance, employees with allergies to eggs or with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome should avoid the flu shot. In addition, some employees might need to refuse the shot for religious reasons, such as rules that prohibit invasions of the body or that forbid the harming of animals in the making of a vaccine.
While The Joint Commission is technically not forcing the flu vaccine on all members of accredited organizations, the plan is strongly urging employers to ensure that all health care personnel are vaccinated. The mandate requires organizations to follow these additional steps:
• Educate staff and practitioners about the vaccine; prevention measures outside the vaccination regime; and the diagnosis, transmission and impact of influenza.
• Develop a strategy to meet incremental goals on the way to achieving a 90 percent flu vaccination rate by 2020.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends organizations continue to promote efforts that focus on educating health care professionals about the effectiveness and safety of the flu shot and the role it can play in preventing influenza for themselves, their patients and their loved ones.
In Virginia, there is no state law or regulation that requires healthcare personnel to have flu vaccinations. However, the Virginia Department of Health states that "workers may be subject to the vaccine requirements put in place by their respective employers." Also, the Virginia Department of Labor has stated that vaccinations can be required as a condition of employment, provided that the employer pays for the vaccinations.
The question for an employer is whether they are willing to terminate employees who refuse a flu vaccination. Employers might decide to provide exceptions for individuals that provide documented evidence of medical or religious reasons for refusing the vaccination. Also, the Virginia Department of Health states that "healthcare personnel without documented vaccination may be sent home by the employer in the event of an outbreak or disease exposure of public health importance."
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