Emergency rooms across the nation are filling with patients with flu symptoms.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said this year’s flu season came early and may be more severe than in years past. More than 40 states are reporting widespread flu cases with more than 2,200 people reported hospitalized. Eighteen children have died.
This season’s influenza vaccine is about 60 percent effective, which is a good match for prevalent flu strains, according to the CDC.
To protect patients that aren’t hospitalized for flu symptoms or complications some hospitals are making it mandatory for healthcare workers to get the flu shot.
While some workers are OK with complying with this new policy, others feel the imposition infringes on their employee rights.
Riverside County hospitals have no such mandate at this time, but there has been a push at the national level, said Cameron Kaiser, interim public health officer with Riverside County Department of Public Health.
“From my point of view, I think it would be difficult to implement in this county,” Kaiser said. “It might be dangerous if someone had a severe reaction and could backfire on the department. But we do strongly believe everyone able to get the flu shot should get it.
“And that goes double for healthcare workers because they work with immune-lowered patients.”
The CDC recommends nearly everyone age 6 months and older get the flu shot. Those who should not get the flu shot include people who have a several allergy to eggs, those who have had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine in the past and people with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
Proponents of the mandate say an egg-free alternative is available to those who have an egg allergy.
Over the past few weeks several hospitals have made national news as employees were fired for failing to comply with new flu vaccine policies.
On Monday, a board-certified holistic nurse who worked for the past 11 years at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri was terminated for violating her hospital’s policy on wearing a surgical mask while working.
The nurse, Carla Brock, was required to wear the mask because she opted out of the hospital’s mandatory flu shot policy.
Brock told USA Today she felt singled out by the mask requirement and that the mask made it difficult to breathe and gave her headaches. She chose not to get the flu vaccine for religious reasons.
In December, an Indiana hospital fired eight employees after they refused mandatory flu shots. Three of the workers were longtime nurses.
The hospital said in a statement that the mandate was implemented to promote patient safety based on recommendations from the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and the CDC.
In California, several hospitals have also begun requiring vaccinations for healthcare workers, including those in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, El Dorado County, Sacramento County and several others. Some require either the vaccination or masking, while others simply require the vaccination.
Kaiser Permanente employees are not required to get the flu vaccine, but are offered the immunization free of charge each year. And those who choose not the get the annual vaccination are required to read, complete and sign the Influenza Vaccine Declination form.
“The health of Kaiser Permanente’s patients and employees is our number one focus,” said Karen Roberts, public affairs director for Riverside County Kaiser Permanente.
Riverside County Public Health Officer Cameron Kaiser says he can see both sides of the controversial issue.
“I want people to do it, but I wouldn’t order them to,” he said. “But in all fairness to the other side … many have been successful. There are a lot of statistics that support the move to mandating flu shots for hospital workers. For many of those that have tried it, it has been effective.”
Jennifer Dean is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.