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Vitale/Whelan Bill To Expand Flu Vaccinations At Health Care Facilities Clears Health Committee

Returning members of the State Senate are sworn in

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Jim Whelan that would require health care facilities to offer flu shots to their employees was approved today by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

“A flu outbreak in hospitals, nursing homes or other health care facilities can have detrimental affects not only on the health professionals afflicted but also on the care they provide,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “By simply having a flu shot, health care workers can significantly decrease the possibility of spreading the flu to patients who already have compromised immune systems. Health care workers have a professional and ethical obligation to receive an influenza vaccination and if health care facilities can make these vaccines more available to them, they have an obligation to do so.”

The bill (S-2984) would require state licensed health care facilities including hospitals and nursing homes to establish and implement an annual influenza vaccination program. Each facility would be required to provide either on- or off-site flu vaccinations for its health care workers, unless an employee provides documentation of current flu vaccinations 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 vaccinations 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 as determined by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services.

“As we continue to see nursing shortages and understaffed health care facilities throughout the Garden State, it is imperative that our health care workers are healthy and able to care for those in need of medical attention,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “By providing an opportunity for these employees to receive flu vaccines, we can greatly reduce absenteeism from our nurses and other health care workers in our hospitals, nursing homes and health care facilities. Compared to the high costs of temporary employees and overtime to cover shifts of sick health care workers, it just makes economic sense to offer health care workers an opportunity to receive a flu shot.”

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 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, only 63.5 percent of health care workers received an influenza vaccine during the 2010-2011 flu season. The bill sponsors said 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 was approved by a vote of 9-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.