The general public may have wondered why it was worth announcing last week that Kaiser Permanente and 105,000 of its union employees had agreed that staff would either get a flu shot or wear surgical masks in patient-care areas during flu season.
But it's not a given that healthcare workers will get flu shots, even as providers and public health officials become increasingly vocal about encouraging patients to get them.
Kaiser's agreement with its unions reflects an “evolving norm,” according to Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Aurora. The overall vaccination rate for healthcare workers has reached 77% and it surpassed 90% for hospitals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average vaccination rate is just 44% at facilities where it's not required, promoted or offered on-site.
A growing number of hospitals and health systems require vaccinations for their employees, typically allowing those with religious objections to wear masks instead. Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich., was one of the first to adopt the policy 10 years ago. Richard Van Enk, Bronson's director of infection prevention, says flu shots are now seen as an employee benefit and workers “would scream bloody murder” if the immunizations ended.