Around 50 employees at Essentia Health, a hospital chain in the upper Midwest, were let go from their jobs for refusing to get flu shots.
Hospitals now require staff workers to get vaccinated, NBC News reports. Public health officials say this should not be surprising trend.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said,
It’s a patient safety issue. It’s so that we do not give flu to our patients.
Schaffer is also the spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Infectious Disease and Chief Patient Quality and Safety Officer at Essentia Health, said, “Patients are in the hospital because they are sick. That puts them at risk of a more severe outcome from influenza. People can die from influenza.”
Vaccination rates in the country are low, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only around 65% of health care workers get their shots yearly.
Requiring the vaccine helps get those numbers up, protects patients and does not harm anyone, Schaffer said. When employers make the vaccine mandatory, the CDC found that 85% of workers get it. Only 43% are immunized otherwise.
Minnesota, where Essentia is located, does not require vaccination for public health workers under state law, but the company began its policy to keep patients safe.
Prahbu said, “Just like other people, we had a voluntary program really encouraging our health care personnel to get vaccinated.”
Essentia employees must either be vaccinated or follow the same procedure as schools: apply for a medical or religious/philosopical waiver. These requests are reviewed by a panel of experts.
So far, the compliance rate at Essentia has been at 99.5%, said Maureen Talarico, spokesperson for the company. Essentia offered free vaccine clinics, had vaccine carts available to make the rounds for workers who could not leave their stations, and so on.
Out of nearly 14,000 employees, these 50 took it to the point where it was necessary to fire them, Essentia said.