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Friday, 9 November 2012

Should 'Flu Vaccination be a Condition of Employment for Health Workers?

A recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal makes the case for mandatory flu vaccinations for health care workers.
There are a number of arguments for requiring health care workers to take up this vaccine.
Health workers in many settings tend to be exposed to flu sufferers during an epidemic and if they fall ill, services are likely to be impaired. Absence rates amongst NHS staff are high when compared to most other UK employment sectors, which puts a significant pressure on hard pressed hospital budgets.
Even more persuasive is the argument that health professionals are in contact with vulnerable patients and could infect them. Individuals sometimes argue that they do not need the flu vaccine because they "never get ill" or that, if they do get 'flu, they will stay at home. The Canadian article points out that flu can be infectious before symptoms appear. We also know that not all those infected with a virus exhibit obvious symptoms.
Age, pregnancy, injury, surgery and acute illness can all suppress the immune system. So imagine your vulnerable relative, entering a health care setting, minus a flu infection this winter. Would you want them cared for by an unvaccinated doctor or nurse?
There is a very strong argument that those who work in health and care settings should be required to have this vaccination.
Employers in the UK have traditionally been wary of imposing health-related rules on their employees. Smoking bans at work, for instance, were slow to take hold. Some would argue that imposing the requirement for vaccination would be discriminatory or an infringement of human rights.
A requirement on health workers would not be discriminatory if applied to all. It does not fall under any section of anti-discrimination law. As far as human rights are concerned, exemptions could be allowed in certain circumstances - if, for instance, someone had a religious objection to vaccination or was advised against it for medical reasons.
Otherwise there would seem to be nothing wrong in saying: It is a requirement of employment that all our staff are up to date with their vaccinations, including annual flu vaccine.
Make it part of the contract of employment when people join, so that new employees are clear that it is a requirement. Use peer pressure to encourage existing staff to comply. To prioritise employee rights over the safety of patients, would seem to be perverse logic.

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