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May 26, 2014 04:59 PM EDT

Implications Of Mandatory Flu Vaccinations For Health-Care Workers

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According to a recent analysis, employers need to understand the implications of implementing mandatory influenza vaccination policies for health care workers.

Vaccination rates among health care workers are less than 50 percent, well below the level necessary for herd immunity.

The analysis, recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that vaccination of health care workers can benefit patient health, leading to a move by many to consider mandatory influenza vaccination as a condition of employment or to require employees to wear a mask during influenza season. Many health care workers favor condition-of-service influenza vaccination policies.

However, researchers said that in Canada condition-of-service policies must comply with employment law, provincial human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Condition-of-service policies that apply to unionized employees must be consistent with collective labour agreements, and vaccination policies should allow exemptions for religious beliefs and practices.

"With respect to the rights to liberty and security, vaccinate-or-mask policies have been found not to violate liberty or security rights, because the vaccine is not mandatory and masks are insufficiently invasive to violate these rights," Dr. Allison McGeer, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, said in a statement.

Most legal cases around vaccination policies have weighed in favor of patient safety.

"Vaccinate-or-mask policies for influenza vaccination in health care organizations result in substantial increases in the vaccination rates among health care workers, are supported by most health care workers and, based on decisions to date, are likely to be found in compliance with Canadian law. ...Physicians and employers should work together to find the best means to improve vaccination rates and protect both patients and providers from influenza," conclude the authors.

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