There’s a reason it’s called Public Health

Physicians and other healthcare workers who refuse influenza immunization at 535-bed Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia can’t work in patient care.

“If you don’t want to get the vaccine, you have two weeks of unpaid leave to think about it, and if you still don’t want to get it, you’re fired,” said Paul Offit, MD, CHOP’s Chief of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center.

There’s no provision to let workers wear a mask instead, like many healthcare facilities allow, because he said, “masks aren’t particularly effective…”

As healthcare organizations rush to comply with new federal immunization reporting requirements for their workers, many infection control experts are questioning the mask option, saying it’s an inefficient, ineffective, and dehumanizing alternative to immunization, one that gives workers an excuse not to get their annual flu vaccines.

Mask mandates are “a silly half-way measure that really doesn’t serve any useful purpose other than to identify a person as a healthcare worker who is choosing not to get vaccinated — selfishly,” Offit said. “You might as well wear a scarlet letter for all the good it does…”

The national average for vaccine refusal by hospital workers is 18%, and some hospitals report they have reduced the refusal rate to 10%, but other hospitals’ have lagged…

Bonnie Castillo, National Nurses United said…”If we in the healthcare and science communities are spreading bogus science on one hand, how do we expect to be credible on any other topic of infectious disease, or worker and patient protection? You have to be consistent.”

For Offit, a focus on getting all healthcare workers immunized is really the only solution to keeping patients safe from infection. One must remember that patients’ lives are at stake, he said…

Several years ago, a child with cancer “came into this hospital for care, but caught the influenza virus in this hospital and died from it,” he said. “She no doubt caught it from us.”

If you want a job in a science-based facility, it’s perfectly reasonable to require that you perform your work up to the standards of the science involved. If you can’t agree to that, then it’s your responsibility to find employment where your beliefs fit.

The same responsibility should apply to the facility. As Dr. Offit makes clear. You ain’t about to treat burns by spitting on them and rubbing in soot…because your patient’s shaman said that’s the appropriate traditional treatment.

Yes, I’ve been in a hospital where that question had to be answered.

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