TRENTON – In the midst of what may be the worst flu season in a decade, a bill sponsored by Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale that would require health care facilities to offer flu shots to their employees was unanimously approved today by the Senate Committee.
“A flu shot is simply the best and easiest way to prevent against getting and spreading the flu,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “For those individuals – such as health care workers – who work closely with people who are sick and elderly, this is not about just protecting themselves, but about protecting those who are most vulnerable to the illness. In 2011, more than 50,000 people died from the flu, with a disproportionate amount being over the age of 65 or with chronic health conditions – the type of people who frequent medical facilities. For the protection of the patients and of health care employees, health care facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes have a professional and ethical responsibility to provide access to this vaccine.”
The bill (S-1464) would require state licensed health care facilities including hospitals, nursing homes and home health care agencies to establish and implement an annual influenza vaccination program. Each facility would be required to provide either on- or off-site flu vaccination for its health care workers, unless an employee provides documentation of current flu vaccination or signs a written statement declining a vaccination. The facilities would be required to maintain records of influenza vaccinations for each of its health care workers.
Health care facilities would additionally be required to provide an educational component to the program that informs their employees of the benefits of flu vaccines, non-vaccine flu control measures, and the symptoms, transmission and potential impact of the flu. The legislation requires health care facilities to conduct an annual review of the program with the goal of improving the rate of influenza vaccination among their health care workers. A health care facility would be able to suspend its annual offering of influenza vaccines if there is determined to be a shortage of available vaccines by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services.
“Hospitals and doctors offices are seeing record numbers of patients with the flu this season and it is our health care workers who are on the front lines treating and protecting these individuals. Unfortunately, these doctors, nurses and other workers are also highly susceptible to being infected with the illness, particularly if they have not been immunized,” said Senator Vitale. “As these facilities are seeing increased patient loads, the last thing that they need is to see absenteeism spike and worker shortages because their staff is home sick.”
Numerous cases involving a lack of influenza-vaccinated health care workers are well documented and have resulted in the introduction and spread of the flu into health care facilities. In one such case, occurring during the 1991-92 flu season, a New York nursing home had a severe influenza outbreak with 65 of their residents infected, resulting in 34 cases of influenza-related pneumonia, 19 hospitalized residents and ultimately two deaths. Only 10 percent of the nursing home’s health care staff had received an influenza vaccination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 66.9 percent of health care workers received an influenza vaccine during the 2011-2012 flu season. Senator Vitale notes that given health care workers’ close contact with patients with weakened immunities and the ease of access to which they could receive an influenza vaccine, these numbers should be substantially higher.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.