Advantages and Disadvantages of Compulsory Influenza Vaccination
Many healthcare facilities and other businesses now require annual mandatory flu shots for seasonal flu, H1N1, or both strains. Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has placed healthcare workers into a high priority to receive the seasonal flu and H1H1 influenza vaccines, those federal programs are voluntary. This article provides a look at the pros and cons of requiring flu vaccines for healthcare workers.
Pros of Mandatory Influenza Vaccines for Healthcare Workers
According to the article entitled “Information for Healthcare professionals: Influenza – prevent a bad disease with a good vaccine” on the National Influenza Vaccine Summit web site sponsored by the American Medical Association on January 22, 2010, many benefits can result from mandatory influenza vaccines, including the possibility of:
- lower rates of influenza in healthcare professionals
- fewer employee absences related to the flu
- lower patient mortality rates
- monetary benefits to the healthcare institution due to the above
According to the Flu.gov article entitled “About the Flu,” about 36,000 people die annually due to complications from the flu. Higher influenza vaccination rates among healthcare workers may result in a slowing of the spread of influenza with less potential to spread influenza to patients and other staff members. This can, in turn, save lives. The flu shots are protecting people from the flu and at the same time is lessening the symptoms in case someone develops an influenza infection. Businesses that require flu shots for employees typically provide them free of charge.
Cons of Required Flu Shots for People who Work in Healthcare
Although vaccination rates have increased with mandatory influenza programs, some of those programs may have had problems with implementation. For example, the CDC recommends that certain people not receive the influenza vaccine, and it is important to provide employees the opportunity to receive an exemption under certain medical or religious circumstances. An educational program should be in place for those administering the vaccines as well as those who are receiving the shots.
Some employees may not qualify for the institution’s exempt status but may have serious concerns related to receiving the influenza vaccine. They may have had a bad experience after a previous flu shot. They may have allergies or sensitivities to other vaccines, preservatives, or other ingredients that may be in the vaccine. These employees might be concerned about possible negative health effects resulting from the vaccine or may be concerned about possible side effects and risks of the flu shot.
Those that do qualify for an exemption may still leave the institution because they may be required to wear a mask throughout the flu season once the vaccines are available, whether or not they have any flu-like symptoms. Most programs do not require employees who receive the flu shot to wear a mask during the two-week period of time that it typically takes for the body to build antibodies to the influenza virus.
According to the CDC’s online article “Seasonal Flu Shot,” the influenza vaccine effectiveness varies, but in healthy adults younger than 65 years, the shot has been shown to be 70-90% effective when the vaccine closely matches the influenza strain of that particular year. This may leave 10-30% or more vulnerable to the flu despite receiving the shot, but only those who did not receive a shot would typically be required to wear a mask during the flu season.
Some employees might argue that if they have not been exposed to the flu that they do not pose a threat to the populations they serve, particularly if they work in areas in which they do not have direct contact with vulnerable populations. Older employees might argue that their age group is not a high risk for H1N1 flu and that limited supplies should go to younger employees and to those who are providing direct care. Other employees may argue that receiving the nasal flu vaccine might pose a threat to others who are immunocompromised if other vaccines are limited in supply.
Mandatory Flu Shots – Are They Worth It?
Many healthcare institutions and other businesses have instituted mandatory flu shots for employees, although the CDC maintains the recommendation of voluntary programs. Although influenza vaccines provide many people with protection from the flu and its potentially deadly side effects, some excellent employees would rather face disciplinary action and even termination rather than to receive required annual flu vaccines.