In recent years, healthcare organizations have been requiring healthcare personnel (HCP) to get the annual influenza vaccine, a requirement that has been controversial among HCP. Why is this practice so important?
Influenza is a serious viral infection that is associated with high morbidity and mortality rates. In the United States, it estimated that up to 15% of the population is affected by the seasonal influenza virus every year. Of those affected, approximately 150,000 require hospitalization and 24,000 die. Anyone can become very ill from influenza, including those who are otherwise healthy.
In addition to being at risk for exposure to influenza in the community, HCP are at increased risk for acquiring the influenza while caring for ill patients. Patients who are at greatest risk for developing severe complications of influenza are more likely to be exposed to a potentially infectious HCP. In fact, HCP can spread influenza to patients even when they don’t feel sick. So, immunization of HCP is one of the most effective ways to prevent influenza transmission to and from high risk individuals. HCP have an obligation maintain patient safety and protect patients from harm; included is the ethical obligation to prevent transmission of infectious diseases, such as influenza to their patients.
Some voluntary HCP vaccination programs have been successful when combined with strong facility leadership and educational campaigns, but most aren’t able to achieve an immunization rate of at least 90%. Mandatory vaccination programs are often necessary to achieve these rates. Moreover, mandatory programs have been associated with dramatically reduced sick days for HCP, as well as healthcare-associated influenza, which is a key to protecting patients from harm and maintaining patient safety.
Some healthcare workers don’t agree that influenza vaccines should be mandatory. Why? Some believe that the influenza vaccine will give them influenza; others believe the vaccines are ineffective, and still others believe the vaccines aren’t safe.
Despite what some believe, you can’t get influenza from the influenza vaccine. The vaccines contain either inactivated virus, meaning the viruses are no longer infectious or a particle designed to look like the influenza virus when recognized by the immune system. The nasal spray influenza vaccine does contain a live virus, but it’s been changed so it can’t give anyone influenza.
The seasonal influenza vaccine is designed to protect against what researchers determine will be most common strains during the upcoming season. Trivalent vaccines protect against three influenza viruses, an influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus, and influenza B virus. Quadrivalent vaccines protect against four viruses, the previous 3 and an additional influenza B virus.
As with other medical agents, the vaccine can have adverse effects that are typically mild and abate in a day or two. Common adverse effects include:
Some research suggests that there may be a link between the injectable influenza vaccine and Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS); however the risk is thought to be about 2 cases of per 1 million people vaccinated.
Common adverse effects of the influenza nasal spray vaccine include:
As an HCP, you are obligated to receive an annual influenza vaccine to protect your patients from life-threatening illness. Does your facility have a mandatory influenza vaccination program? If so, what obstacles have you encountered rolling out your program? What tips do you have for someone who is implementing a mandatory program?
For additional information and education on influenza, click HERE to check out the Lippincott Professional Development Collection online course on “Seasonal Influenza” which is accredited for CE.