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Health Care Workers Must Now Receive Flu Vaccine

September 10, 2012

William Walker, MD
Contra Costa Health Services

Download the audio (MP3)

More flu information for providers.

Two years ago, as a new flu season was approaching, I urged my colleagues in health care to get their annual flu vaccine. I felt we owed it to our patients and to ourselves.

The response was discouraging. During last year's flu season, vaccination rates of employees at local hospitals ranged from 44 percent on the low end to 72 percent on the high end. As health care professionals charged with patient safety, we should be doing better.

Hello, I'm Dr. William Walker, Director of Contra Costa Health Services. As the County's Health Officer, I have a duty to protect the public's health. I issued a public health order requiring health care workers throughout the county to either get their annual flu shots or wear masks.

This order is in effect from November 1 to March 31 and applies to hospitals, emergency medical service providers, ambulatory health clinics, skilled nursing facilities and health care facilities in Contra Costa County. Similar orders already are in place in other cities and counties throughout the state, including Sacramento, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties.

The low vaccination rates mean health care workers could pass on the flu to patients and co-workers. And they are likely spreading the virus without even realizing it. People with the flu are contagious up to one day before symptoms appear, usually five to seven days following exposure.

As health care providers, we need to practice what we preach. We always urge the public to get their flu shots every year, and for good reason. But 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.

If there's another flu epidemic, unvaccinated health care workers could be forced to stay home sick, further straining local hospital and clinic resources. That serves nobody's interests.

Flu vaccine will arrive soon. I hope you will join me in being among the first to extend an arm for the health of our patients, family and selves.

Thanks for listening.

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