NEW YORK NURSE: March/April 2012
by Erin Silk and Betsy Herlihy
In recent years, the topic of mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers against influenza has been hotly debated without resolution.
NYSNA recently had the opportunity to comment publicly with thirteen other labor groups on a five-part recommendation by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC), experts who advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on vaccine policy issues.
These recommendations are designed to provide hospitals and other healthcare facilities with strategies for reaching the Healthy People 2020 goal that 90% of healthcare workers be vaccinated against influenza.
One recommendation from the NVAC advised employers to ‘adopt a flu vaccination mandate.’ NYSNA and other labor groups who oppose such mandates have concerns about the safety and efficacy of flu vaccines, and were concerned that hospitals might interpret this recommendation as a license to institute mandatory vaccination policies as a condition of employment. As a result, the language has been changed to read, ‘healthcare employers should strongly consider mandatory flu vaccination policies.’
The following are the NVAC’s five-part recommendations: 1) Healthcare facilities should establish comprehensive infection control programs as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 2) Healthcare facilities should integrate influenza vaccination programs into existing infection prevention programs and occupational health programs; 3) CDC and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should continue efforts to standardize methods on how to measure healthcare worker flu vaccination rates; 4) If recommendations one, two and three cannot be achieved to reach the 90 percent national goal, healthcare employers should strongly consider mandatory flu vaccination policies and; 5) HHS should encourage on-going efforts to develop new and improved flu vaccines.
Other changes to the recommendations as a result of labor’s concerns include:
NVAC members voted on the five recommendations; each item passing with a majority vote.
NYSNA supports the CDC’s recommendation that everyone over the age of six months be immunized against seasonal influenza and that nurses and other healthcare providers should be immunized to protect their patients and themselves. However, NYSNA strongly opposes mandatory vaccination as a condition of employment, as suggested by some government entities and healthcare facility policies.
NYSNA’s Influenza Task Force continues to closely monitor and react to any activity at the local, state and federal level that could potentially impact the rights of healthcare workers in regards to mandatory influenza vaccination.