Maryland health officials push for hospital worker flu vaccinations

While Maryland hospitals have become more aggressive in recent years about vaccinating workers for the flu, public health officials are pushing for stricter programs to halt the spread of the flu virus.
Just over 80 percent of Maryland hospital workers received the flu vaccine last year, which in most cases was a result of their employers requiring it, the Baltimore Sun reports. Of 46 hospitals surveyed in Maryland, only 19 vaccinated at least 90 percent of their workers and 13 of those had mandatory policies.
"Hospitals that stepped up and impressed on staff how critical it is for patient safety that workers be vaccinated clearly were the hospitals that were successful," Frances Phillips, a deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said, according to the Baltimore Sun. "Those that had mandatory policies were clustered at the top. We'll see what other hospitals do in response to the data."
Dr. William Thomas, the chief medical officer at MedStar Health, said that more hospitals should start mandatory flu vaccination initiatives.
"If you look at data on how many people die in this country from influenza, it overwhelms all other hospital-acquired infections in numbers, and you couple that with the voluntary vaccination programs that weren't successful in getting 98 to 100 percent of employees, and this becomes an argument for a mandatory policy," Thomas said, according to the Baltimore Sun. "[MedStar] should have adopted a policy 10 years ago. Everyone should collectively take their courage pills and do this."
Between five and 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu every year, with more than 200,000 people hospitalized each year. Deaths can run as high at 49,000 in a given year.
In the survey compiled by the Maryland Health Care Commission, 13 hospitals fell below the 70 percent mark and six vaccinated significantly fewer workers than the season before, the Baltimore Sun reports. Overall, 81 percent of workers were vaccinated, which is up from 78 percent the season before. Close to 15 percent declined for approved medical or religious reasons.
"We really believe education is key," DeAnn McEwan, the vice president of the nurses' union and an intensive-care nurse in California, said, according to the Baltimore Sun. "There are still myths out there. Workers should be presented with the actual risks and benefits, and once they understand the vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, they may be more willing to take it."