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Boston Globe: Hospitals to require worker flu shots

Hospitals to require worker flu shots

Refusal may lead to firing at Beth Israel, Children’s

By Kay Lazar

Globe Staff 

Two of Boston’s largest teaching hospitals will require all employees who have contact with patients to get a flu vaccine this fall or face suspension or possibly termination.

The two, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Children’s Hospital Boston, are part of a 10-hospital coalition that pledged in July to adopt policies “as quickly as logistically feasible’’ to mandate seasonal flu vaccines for all health care workers “as a condition of employment.’’

The hospital rules are aimed at keeping workers healthy so they do not spread the flu to patients and also to ensure that a large number of caregivers do not get sick in the middle of a flu outbreak, when hospitals could be inundated with patients.

The rules come as state health regulators are slated to unveil the latest flu vaccination rates today among the state’s 71 acute care hospitals.

The state’s relatively low vaccination rate – 68 percent of workers were immunized in the 2009-2010 season – has long frustrated public health leaders.

“It’s a critical patient-safety issue,’’ said Dr. Alan Woodward, past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society and a member of the state Public Health Council, an appointed panel of doctors, consumer advocates, and professors will discuss how to get more workers vaccinated today.

“Health care workers are very prone to be vectors, transmitting the disease to others, and they can be infectious before they show symptoms,’’ Woodward said.

Hoping to boost statewide rates, the 10-hospital coalition called the Eastern Massachusetts Healthcare Initiative adopted a statement in July in which member hospitals agreed to develop mandatory vaccination policies for all health care personnel, with approved medical exemptions as the only exception.

Included in that coalition are Boston Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Lahey Clinic, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Massachusetts General Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, and Winchester Hospital.

Current state rules require hospital workers to be vaccinated or to sign a form declining the shot. Those rules allow for medical and religious exceptions.

But Dr. Kenneth Sands, senior vice president for health care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess and chairman of the coalition, said stricter rules that allow only medical exceptions, such as a signed doctor’s form indicating a worker’s allergy to the vaccine, can create significantly higher vaccination rates.

“Most of these places [nationally] that have gotten to 100 percent vaccination rates either have people receiving vaccine or having a documented reason to not get a vaccine,’’ he said.

Sands said the current state policy, which allows workers to avoid a flu vaccine by simply signing a form declining the shot, will probably not create higher vaccination rates.

At Beth Israel Deaconess, Sands said, the new policy will not allow patients to decline the vaccine unless they have a documented medical problem, and will allow religious exemptions only on a “case-by-case basis.’’

The hospital had a 60 percent vaccination rate in the 2009-2010 season. Sands said Beth Israel has worked to boost its rates by offering shots during off-hours, at nurses’ work stations, and at kiosks set up in the hospital.

At Children’s Hospital, this season’s policy, which is still being finalized, will state that all “personnel who work in patient care areas who are not vaccinated or granted a medical exemption will face termination and/or withdrawal of privileges,’’ said Bess Andrews, a spokeswoman.

The withdrawal of privileges refers to physicians who are not employed by the hospital but who see patients at the institution. They will no longer be allowed to treat patients at Children’s if not vaccinated.

The hospital reported a 53 percent worker vaccination rate in 2009-2010.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last month that estimated a national flu vaccination rate among hospital workers last season at 71 percent. The report said that vaccination rates among health care workers in general was about 63 percent.

The agency found that vaccination rates were as high as 98 percent among workers whose employers mandated the shots.

It also found that roughly 95 percent of health care workers who were immunized last year believed the vaccine was safe. Among the workers who did not get immunized, only 66 percent said they believed the shot was safe.

Similarly, the survey found that 89 percent of workers who were vaccinated believed the shot would help protect people around them from getting the flu. Only 45 percent of those who were not vaccinated indicated that belief.

Kay Lazar can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.