NEW YORK NURSE: December 2010
by Mark Genovese
NYSNA agrees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that healthcare providers be immunized against seasonal influenza and urges all RNs to get vaccinated every year.
Nurses have an ethical obligation to protect themselves, their families, and the patients they serve from illness, and vaccination is an important component of a comprehensive influenza prevention plan.
The 2010-2011 influenza vaccine will protect against three different viruses: the H3N2 virus, influenza B virus and H1N1 virus which caused widespread illness last season. Starting this year, the CDC recommends vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older.
In response to last year’s H1N1 pandemic, New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines mandated that healthcare workers be vaccinated against influenza. The mandate was suspended due to low vaccine availability, yet many nurses remain anxious at the prospect of required vaccination as a condition of employment.
Although the health department has been silent this fall about plans to support mandatory vaccination, state Senator Thomas Duane plans to introduce a bill requiring mandatory vaccination during the upcoming session of the State Legislature, which will start in January.
NYSNA recognizes the importance of vaccination, and supports an aggressive voluntary vaccination program as part of a comprehensive infection prevention plan that includes education, proper hygiene practices, and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment.
NYSNA also takes a firm position that any legislation that addresses the issue of influenza vaccination for healthcare workers should encourage healthcare facilities to implement comprehensive influenza infection control programs that include voluntary vaccination as one of several components. As it did last year, the association will uphold the right of RNs to choose whether or not they wish to be vaccinated, maintaining it should not be a condition of employment.
A comprehensive influenza infection control plan also includes:
Successful vaccination programs should include educational components that address the benefits and common misconceptions of vaccination, offer the vaccine at no cost and at a time and place convenient for workers, and employ other strategies that have been proven to work.
In June 2009, the Joint Commission issued a monograph with examples of 28 healthcare organizations that have improved their immunization rates by implementing comprehensive infection control strategies.
NYSNA has taken the lead on this issue since the emergency rule regarding mandatory influenza vaccination was first proposed in June 2009. It sent a letter to every represented facility requesting impact bargaining on how the regulation would be implemented, and focused on mitigating the effects of the rule at the facility level. It followed up by helping to form a coalition within the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health that opposed vaccination as a condition of employment.
NYSNA representatives then delivered testimony to the State Hospital Review and Planning Council’s Codes and Regulations Committee and met with Commissioner Daines, DOH staff, State Education Department staff, and legislators.
NYSNA’s protection of nurses’ workplace rights, however, should not confuse the message it is delivering to nurses: Get the seasonal influenza vaccination.
As a trusted profession, we owe it to ourselves, our families and our patients to get vaccinated and set a good example for all. Through the cooperation of healthcare facilities, healthcare workers and the legislature, we can improve voluntary vaccination rates, establish effective flu prevention and control efforts, and safeguard the public’s health.
For more information on influenza and immunization, visit NYSNA’s website at www.nysna.org or the CDC’s site at www.cdc.gov.