MAY 17, 2016 09:30 AM PDT

State laws push health care workers to get flu shots

More health care workers are getting flu vaccines as more states pass laws making flu shots mandatory, a new study shows.
"By getting immunized against the flu, the health care worker is, in essence, building a fence to protect patients, who perhaps can't get immunized or whose immune systems are so compromised that the vaccine isn't as effective," says Richard Zimmerman.
Researchers looked at influenza immunization rates from 2000 to 2011, during which the number of states with vaccination laws aimed at health care workers climbed from two to 19.

“Flu vaccination for all health care workers has long been recommended as one of the most effective ways to avoid infecting vulnerable patients with influenza, which kills thousands of people every year,” says lead author Chyongchiou Jeng Lin, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “State laws mandating that health care workers get flu vaccinations are an effective method to potentially save lives.”

From 2000 to 2005, only Maine and New Hampshire had flu vaccine requirement laws for health care workers. During that period, the average flu vaccination rate for health care workers was 22.5 percent. From 2006 to 2011—when 19 other states passed similar laws—the average vaccination rate for health care workers increased to 50.9 percent.

State vaccine laws are not the same across the board. Some mandate that health care employers pay for the vaccines, some require formal documentation, and others require only that certain health care workers—such as those in long-term care facilities—get vaccines. To do the analysis, researchers assigned scores to each state based on the rigor of its law.

“We’re finding that the higher the score—meaning the state has a law and includes components like a mandate or education—the greater the probability that the vaccination rate among health care workers will be higher,” Lin says.

Advisory committees and health care organizations, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recommend that all health care workers receive an annual flu vaccine to reduce the spread of flu among staff and patients, and to decrease staff absenteeism.

In a previous study, Lin found that individual hospital policies that mandate influenza vaccination can nearly double their vaccination rates. And, when coupled with a state law mandating health care worker flu immunization, those rates nearly triple.

“By getting immunized against the flu, the health care worker is, in essence, building a fence to protect patients, who perhaps can’t get immunized or whose immune systems are so compromised that the vaccine isn’t as effective,” says Richard Zimmerman, professor of family medicine.”

The study appears in the Journal of the National Medical Association. Since its publication, several more states have added laws that, in some way, address flu vaccine requirements for health care workers, bringing the total to 33 states. Flu vaccination rates among health care workers also have increased to 66.9 percent in the 2012-2013 season, the most recent for which comprehensive data are available.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Public Health Law Research program funded the work.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

This article was originally published on futurity.org.
About the Author
  • Futurity features the latest discoveries by scientists at top research universities in the US, UK, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The nonprofit site, which launched in 2009, is supported solely by its university partners (listed below) in an effort to share research news directly with the public.
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