An agreement between Kaiser Permanente and 105,000 union employees calls for staff to either receive a flu vaccination or wear a surgical mask when working in patient-care areas during flu season.
The agreement, touted as landmark by Kaiser officials, covers nurses, medical assistants, custodial and maintenance staff, food-service workers, lab technicians, scientists and clerical staff in 28 local unions throughout seven states and the District of Columbia.
It was part of general contract negotiations that touched on wages, benefits, working conditions and other employment matters, said Hal Ruddick, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions.
Ruddick noted that similar policies have been adopted by county health officials in California, so most of the employees of the Oakland, Calif.-based integrated healthcare system already followed similar requirements.
“We're going to strongly recommend that people get the vaccination, but it is an individual choice,” said Ruddick, who was the lead union negotiator on the contract. “The evidence is solid that anything we could do to increase vaccination rates would have a concrete impact not only on employee health, but also the people they care for.”
A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the overall vaccination rate for healthcare workers during the last flu season was 77.3%, a slight increase from the rate during the 2013-14 season.
In facilities where vaccination was mandatory, the rate was 96%. Pharmacists had the highest rate, 95.3%; “assistants and aides” had the lowest, 64.4%.
Union spokeswoman Anjetta McQueen Thackery said Kaiser doesn't collect national totals on its 179,000 union and nonunion employees. Regional figures are collected, but the numbers may also reflect that regions' ability to collect the data.
Kaiser's employee-vaccination rate ranges from 99% in Hawaii, to 35% in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
The recent measles outbreak prompted the American Nurses Association this summer to strengthen its policy.
The new policy states that anyone granted a vaccine exemption based on religious or medical reasons "may be required to adopt measures or practices in the workplace to reduce ... disease transmission.”