Health workers being forced to get flu shots

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Health professionals who are concerned about adverse reactions from the new vaccines “are not immune to what the rest of us feel, in not seeing themselves at risk,” said Sandra Quinn, a public health professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Many, if they are older, may think they are not as much at risk.”

Dr. Jane Seward, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases, said flu is “an invisible disease. It is not a rash illness like measles” for which two shots can vaccinate a person for life.

The British survey of general practitioners found that 71.3 percent were “concerned that the vaccine has not been through sufficient trials to guarantee safety,” while 50.4 percent said they thought “swine flu is too mild to justify taking the vaccine.”

Cindy Edward, a nurse in charge of the Montgomery County government’s disease-control efforts, suggested that such attitudes among health care workers wouldn’t necessarily carry over into the advice they give patients and relatives.

“They will say their parents should get it,” she said.

Inova Health System of Northern Virginia, covering 16,000 people, makes vaccination voluntary. New this year, however, is a “flu champion program,” said spokeswoman Rachel Lynch, whereby nurses are trained at each of the system’s hospitals to vaccinate people on site.

Gary Stephenson, a spokesman with Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, said a voluntary system remains in effect for the hospital’s 13,000 employees because compliance was so good last year, with more than 80 percent of workers immunized against seasonal flu.

He said all employees wear color-coded badges. Last year, he said, a green card indicated a person had the seasonal flu vaccination and other employees had to wear a mask when working around patients.

BJC HealthCare in St. Louis, which has 26,000 employees in 13 hospitals and four service organizations, last year required everyone to get a seasonal flu shot as a condition of employment and found that fewer than 10 people lost their jobs because of noncompliance.

The hospital system had 70 percent of its workers immunized and the rest secured waivers, spokeswoman Kim Kitson said. Because of the H1N1 outbreak this year, the system is “pushing for even more,” Ms. Kitson said.

Bryan L. Anderson, a spokesman for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., reports having “a pretty educated [employee] population” that, without making the vaccine mandatory, had “more than 80 percent of staff vaccinated.”

The World Health Organization has stated that doctors and nurses should be the first people immunized against the H1N1 virus, in order to maintain functional health care systems and keep such personnel from transmitting the virus to patients hospitalized for other conditions.

The CDC defines health care workers as physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, laboratory technicians, physical therapists and home health aides.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has vouched consistently for the safety and efficacy of the forthcoming vaccine, saying it is made similarly to the seasonal vaccine but uses a slightly different antigen to combat the new strain. Studies have suggested that the new flu pandemic can be controlled if at least 70 percent of the U.S. population is vaccinated.

Dr. Seward, however, said that “we certainly can do better with health care workers.”

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