News & Events

Swine and Seasonal Flu Updates

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hospital and other healthcare workers are at the front of the line to get the new swine flu vaccine, but many are resisting and even fighting vaccination requirements.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot yet say how many are reluctant to have the shots because the campaign has just started. But the number may be significant given that only about 40 percent of U.S. healthcare workers ever get vaccinated against seasonal influenza.

A vaccination requirement sparked protests in New York this month, and already one lawyer has filed suit to allow staffers to opt out.

Healthcare workers, at high risk of infection with influenza, including swine flu, were the first offered the vaccine against H1N1 in many states that have started vaccinating campaigns over the past two weeks.

"It is extremely important that healthcare workers, as well as all hospital staff, get vaccinated for both H1N1 and seasonal flu," said Lynnae Mahaney, president of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Mahaney’s organization surveyed pharmacy directors at 341 hospitals across the country and found only 37 percent could report vaccination rates of more than 70 percent at their hospitals.

"That’s too low," said Mahaney.

Healthcare workers such as nurses and technicians often have the same fears the general public has about vaccines — are they tested, can they give you the flu and can they cause side-effects?

The CDC says these fears are based on myths, but doubts persist.


The Infectious Diseases Society of America has asked for all states to mandate vaccinations for healthcare workers.

"Decades of scientific data demonstrate Food and Drug Administration-approved influenza vaccines to be safe, effective, and cost-saving," the group said in a statement.

But the U.S. Health and Human Services Department is stressing that the vaccination campaign is voluntary.

Hospital Corp. of America is requiring healthcare workers to get vaccinated, while MedStar, which operates hospitals in the Baltimore-Washington area, requires all staff, including clerical workers, to be immunized.

New York state requires healthcare workers to be vaccinated against flu, but this week attorney Patricia Finn of Piermont, New York, filed for a temporary restraining order against Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines.

Finn, whose practice specializes in clients who want to be exempt from vaccine requirements, said her suit represents 60,000 healthcare workers.

Last month some healthcare workers protested in the state capital, Albany. "Let’s unite to oppose mandatory H1N1 vaccinations," organizers wrote in a Facebook announcement.

British officials are battling similar resistance.

"We all know that uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine among NHS staff is traditionally low," Ian Dalton, director of flu resilience at the National Health Service, wrote in a letter to chief executives and boards of hospitals quoted by the Guardian newspaper.

"It is an NHS board responsibility that we do not find ourselves in this position with the swine flu vaccine."

(Editing by Xavier Briand and David Storey)

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Companies try to get a jump on swine flu

By Katie Johnston Chase
Globe Staff / October 15, 2009

The Massachusetts Port Authority is training extra workers to operate the 68-foot-long snowplows that clear the runways in case the regular drivers come down with swine flu. The law firm Foley Hoag gave each of its employees a kit with hand sanitizer, tissues, and telephone disinfectant pads. And HarborOne Credit Union has gone so far as to cancel its annual holiday party.

Local employers are gearing up for the H1N1 influenza virus, which the Boston Public Health Commission is cautioning could infect 30 percent of the population this fall and winter. So far this season, the city has not been as hard hit as many other areas across the country, and the commission has urged businesses to update their pandemic plans and take precautions now to prevent the disease from spreading through the workplace.

Many companies are going beyond the usual winter flu precautions of supplying tissues and seasonal flu shots as they try to make sure business doesn’t suffer if a swine flu outbreak occurs. A recent survey of more than 1,000 businesses by the Harvard School of Public Health found that only a third could function without suffering major operational problems if half their workforce were out sick for two weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises employees who come down with the flu not to return to work until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone – and a few businesses are modifying their sick leave policies accordingly. Investment consulting firm Cambridge Associates has granted its employees five additional paid days off to use if they or their children come down with swine flu. A few workers have already used a day or two of the extra time, said Shannon Ciempa, the company’s human resources project manager.

In light of CDC recommendations, which warn that doctors could become overloaded with flu patients this season, Cambridge Associates, which has 437 employees in Boston, will not require employees to bring a doctor’s note.

If an entire department is out sick, other employees may be asked to pick up the slack. Jessica Shaffer, the executive assistant to Leader Bank president Sushil Tuli, has been trained to help in the accounting, mortgage, and human resource departments, and is prepared to perform different tasks if her co-workers get sick.

“I find it fulfilling,’’ she said of her ability to wear different hats at the bank. “It keeps me from getting bored.’’

As part of its emergency plan, Leader Bank has determined the minimum staffing it needs to operate a branch – one teller, one manager, and one customer service representative, instead of the usual six employees – and has two employment agencies on call, as well as employees from Leader Mortgage, who can fill in if needed.Continued…

The H1N1 vaccine is not widely available yet, but many businesses are providing seasonal flu shots to their employees and to the public. In addition to cross-training more landscapers to operate snowplows, Massport, which runs Logan International Airport, is offering $25 seasonal flu shots not only to the 20,000 airport workers, but to the passengers in Terminal C, as well – and may expand its flu shot locations as the H1N1 vaccine becomes available.

“There’s just a lot of concern out there about how this virus is going to react, and we’re just feeling like we need to be responsible, good citizens,’’ said David Gambone, Massport’s director of human resources.

To prevent an office-wide outbreak, some companies are planning to allow more people to work from home. Foley Hoag has asked its 200 lawyers to test their remote-access capabilities to make sure they are properly set up, a measure that helps reassure clients who have been asking about the firm’s swine flu plans. “They want to know that we’re doing everything we can . . . so that we can meet their needs,’’ said Tom Block, the chief operating officer.

Eileen D’Amico, a longtime administrative assistant at Foley Hoag, also appreciates the firm’s efforts, which include distributing swine flu kits, installing hand sanitizer dispensers on every floor, and administering seasonal flu shots.

“They take care of it before you even know it is a problem,’’ said D’Amico, who set her 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter for everybody to use.

It is important for businesses to take these steps to show their employees that they are responsible and socially aware, said business consultant Amy Cooper Hakim, founder of the Cooper Strategic Group in Boca Raton, Fla. But it can make people nervous if these actions are not explained, she said, which is exactly what happened when one of her clients’ companies installed hand sanitizers without saying why.

“The communication is as important, if not more important, than any policy changes that occur,’’ Hakim said.

Some companies are not taking a chance on large social gatherings, which could spread the virus.

HarborOne Credit Union, which has 15 branches in Southeastern Massachusetts, canceled its holiday party, an annual gala at the Shaw’s Center in Brockton.

The company will give out $25 Stop & Shop gift cards to its 350 employees instead.

At First Parish Unitarian Church in Norwell, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein is doing what she can to prevent the spread of germs in what she describes as a “very huggy-kissy church.’’ She provided vinyl gloves for ushers counting the offering and has talked to the 300-member parish about giving one another air kisses and fist bumps instead of shaking hands or hugging.

Parishioners are taking her up on it. The other day, she said, “Someone gave me a hip bump in the receiving line after church.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at


Check out MHA (MA Hospital Association’s) new website at

Re their statement on H1N1:

MHA says they’ll assist with flu administration if needed. Why aren’t hospitals on the forefront , setting up vaccination clinics to help PREVENT waves of illness and to forestall the predicted surges of patients which could swamp ERs, ICUs, bed capacity, require more ventilators than are available and lead to vent rationing?

And they will “consider” cancelling elective surgeries if flu cases surge. Why not just plan on doing exactly that now? Hospitals should have this in place already for the many instances where there are too many patients to be safely cared for due to the reluctance by hospitals and surgeons to cancel lucrative elective surgeries which cause patient flow problems that can easily be predicted and prevented.

What about clarifying policies for staff regarding staying home when ill without retribution and being allowed to work when not ill or symptomatic?

And MHA shares DPH’s concern about boarding. They have been “sharing that concern” for YEARS without the necessary regulatory framework in place to prevent it.