First hospital to mandate flu vaccinations reports on success

Officials with Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, the first U.S. hospital to successfully institute mandatory flu vaccinations for its healthcare workers, said the payoffs have been well worth some of the challenges.

Virginia Mason's mandatory vaccination policy was launched during the 2005-06 flu season, CIDRAP News reports. A five-year report on the policy, which will appear in the September edition of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, shows that the policy has garnered a 98 percent participation rate and has increased efficiency.

Typically, seasonal flu vaccination rates hover at around 44 percent for healthcare workers.

In the 2003-04 flu season, prior to the policy going into effect, about 54 percent of healthcare workers at Virginia Mason were immunized, CIDRAP News reports. After the first year of the program, participation rose to 97.6 percent, and it reached 98.9 percent during the 2009-10 season, according to the report.

The researchers detailed the steps the facility took to adopt its mandatory flu vaccine policy. After Virginia Mason's board of trustees approved the measure, hospital administrators set up a multidisciplinary task force to lead and implement the new policy.

Different techniques and options were offered to employees, including multiple vaccine delivery systems and drive-through vaccination stations. The hospital also offered employees several vaccine choices, from thimerosal-free formulations to the intranasal version.

Healthcare workers were allowed to apply for medical or religious exemptions. Virginia Mason officials told CIDRAP News that they approved 31 exemptions during the first year of the mandatory requirement. That number has remained stable and only a handful of workers have left the hospital because of the policy.

Although the Washington State Nurses Association filed a grievance over the policy, with an arbitrator ruling in the nurses’ favor, meaning that unionized nurses aren’t required to be vaccinated, nearly 96 percent of them still received the flu vaccine last season.

Hospital officials noted that the key to the success of the policy was strong support from the hospital leadership. The success of the mandatory policy bodes well for other healthcare institutions, hospital officials concluded.

The topic of mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers continues to remain a controversial issue. Last year, New York was the first state to mandate such a policy. It was rescinded at the start of the flu season, however, because the H1N1  vaccine was in short supply and because it faced legal challenges from unions.