Texas Senate bill would require immunizations for hospital employees

A wide-ranging health care bill approved last Friday by the Texas Senate would require that hospitals develop policies that require immunizations for employees who have contact with patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all health care workers receive annual flu shots. Surveys from 2006 and 2008, however, revealed that less than half received the influenza vaccine. The CDC also recommends that health workers receive immunizations against measles, chickenpox, mumps, diphtheria, rubella and whooping cough, The Statesman reports.

"It's a patient-safety issue," Denise Rose, a representative with the Texas Hospital Association, said, according to The Statesman. "If someone is in a room with a patient who's very ill or whose immune system is compromised, they should be vaccinated."

In the Austin, Texas, area, all employees in the Seton Healthcare Family’s 10 hospitals must get flu shots, while the seven St. David’s HealthCare hospitals require the vaccine for employees who either work in patient areas or come into contact with patients. During flu season, both hospital systems require unvaccinated employees to wear a surgical mask. The proposed state rule would let hospitals determine which immunizations to require and which employees to include in the policy.

While employees could opt out of receiving shots for certain medical or religious reasons, they would have to follow procedures like wearing masks and gloves to protect patients from possible exposure.

Opposition to the bill has come from vaccine opponents who say that immunizations carry a health risk.

"We think it goes too far for government to say that in order to keep your job you have to take this injection," Dawn Richardson, a representative with Parents Requesting Open Vaccine Education, said, according to The Statesman.