On August 13th, the New York State Hospital Review and Planning Council adopted a regulation recommended by the New York State Health Department making approved annual influenza vaccinations mandatory, unless medically contraindicated, for health care workers in hospitals, outpatient clinics and home care services. Legislation applying the same standards to nursing home workers has also been proposed. The new regulation will apply first to the routine annual seasonal influenza vaccine now available. With the recent FDA approval of the vaccine for novel H1N1 flu (“swine flu”), the regulation will also apply to that vaccine, just in time for the second wave of novel H1N1 influenza already returning this fall. If you haven’t heard, this order is one that most healthcare workers are not happy to follow.
I am a big advocate of flu vaccinations simply because as a nurse, I feel it is my responsibility to stay healthy. I also encourage flu vaccinations for my family, friends and for my patients, who are immunocomprised either from the chemotherapy treatments or from receiving biologic agents. Now, the stakes are higher because of the H1N1 virus and I continue to advocate for my family, friends and patients to take the H1N1 vaccine, when it becomes available. I get my flu shots voluntarily, no one has to mandate me to take one. I understand other colleagues don’t feel the same way. There are recommendations from healthcare organizations such as APIC on requiring those healthcare workers with direct patient contact to get both vaccines. So why the debate? I don’t live in NY but I’m sure the debate about this mandate will continue to escalate. I know all those healthcare workers in NY will not disagree on the benefits of the vaccinations. So is it the mandatory part or is it about protecting themselves and the patients they serve? “Do no harm” isn’t that what patient care is about?
“It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a hospital that it should do the sick no harm.” Florence Nightingale