California Senate approves healthcare worker flu vaccination bill

The California Senate approved a substantially reworked bill requiring healthcare facilities to hit a 90 percent flu vaccine health worker compliance rate by 2015.

SB 1318, proposed by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis), initially met major opposition over a requirement that workers refusing to get the vaccine would need to wear a paper mask in patient areas during flu season. The requirement was excised in the reworked bill. In addition, the revised bill, which passed 23-9, would delay implementation to give facilities and working groups time to try alternate method to improve their compliance rates, California Health Line reports.

"We compromised dearly here," Wolk said, according to California Health Line. "We agreed to delay the implementation for two years. We think that's reasonable."

Wolk said that protecting patient health is the most important aspect of the bill. She said that influenza deaths occur among the most vulnerable groups at risk for flu, including seniors, infants, chemotherapy patients and people with compromised immune systems. Approximately 64 percent of health care workers in California receive influenza vaccinations, compared to 90 percent of workers in several other states.

"We have a fundamental disagreement with our opponents," Wolk said, according to California Health Line. "Is requiring a flu vaccination a bargainable issue? I do not believe you can collectively bargain a public health requirement in a health care setting, when the consequences are illness or death. Here's our opportunity to do something positive, that will prevent sickness and death. And in doing that, we will protect the herd, the society at large."

The bill will now go to the assembly for debate and possible approval.