Health care workers must get vaccinated or wear masks this flu season
Monday, September 10, 2012
With flu season approaching, Contra Costa County's Health Officer has issued an order requiring health care workers throughout the county to either get annual flu vaccinations or wear masks. This will help protect both patients and workers from the flu virus and reduce the spread of illness in the community.
Dr. William Walker, the county's Health Officer and the director of Contra Costa Health Services, sent the order to hospitals, emergency medical service providers, ambulatory health clinics, skilled nursing and other health care facilities operating in the county. Contra Costa joins other counties in the state that have issued similar mandates including San Francisco, Santa Clara County and Sacramento County.
"As health care providers, we need to practice what we preach," Dr. Walker said. "We always urge the public to get their flu shots every year, and for good reason. If doctors and nurses aren't bothering to get immunized, we're not only sending a contradictory message to the public, we're endangering our patients."
As Health Officer, Dr. Walker has the legal authority to issue orders to prevent and control contagious diseases in the interest of the public's health. Dr. Walker said the flu shot order is necessary because vaccination rates among health care workers are too low and patient safety is at stake. Employee vaccination rates at hospitals in Contra Costa ranged from 44 to 72 percent in 2010-11, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The low vaccination rates mean health care workers could get the flu and then pass it on to co-workers and patients. People with the flu are contagious up to one day before symptoms appear and can spread the virus without even realizing it. Patients in health care facilities are especially vulnerable to influenza. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic conditions are at greater risk for flu-related hospitalization and death, according to Walker.
The vaccination and masking requirements will go into effect this fall during the upcoming flu season from Nov. 1 to March 31 and will continue in future flu seasons. People working in licensed health care settings who have direct patient contact or work in patient care areas now must get their flu vaccines or, if they decline, wear masks for the remainder of the flu season.
Officials at Kaiser Permanente, which operates several hospitals in Contra Costa and the Bay Area, recognize the importance of health care workers being immunized against the flu.
"At Kaiser Permanente we see flu vaccination as a matter of patient safety as well as an important part of our employees' own health and wellness, and we encourage all of our employees and physicians to be vaccinated," said Dr. Randy Bergen, the clinical lead for Kaiser Permanente's influenza vaccination program in Northern California.
You can listen to a podcast by Dr. Walker on the flu shot and masking requirements on cchealth.org. To see Dr. Walker's order and learn more about the requirements, go to http://cchealth.org/flu/
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