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December 6, 2012

Hospitals fire staff for failing to get mandatory flu shots

Daily Briefing

    Hospitals nationwide adopted "no shot, no job" policies for the flu vaccine this year—and the start of the flu season has forced some hospitals to fire workers who failed to meet vaccination deadlines.

    The rise of mandatory vaccine policies is intended to better protect patients, many of whom have compromised immune systems and may be especially vulnerable to influenza, says Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association's vice president of quality and patient safety. In Connecticut alone, 19 of the state's 29 acute care hospitals have implemented mandates this year, up from just five hospitals last year.

    Last year at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, officials adopted a "no shot, no job" policy, and the hospital dismissed five employees who refused to vaccinate. This year, the hospital dismissed two additional per diem employees, according to Susan MacArthur, the hospital's director of infection prevention.

    Similarly, Waterbury Hospital this year adopted a mandatory vaccination policy, and two full-time Waterbury employees were suspended this week for failing to meet the Dec. 5 vaccination deadline.

    "There are a few hardcore people who are holding out, and that's their prerogative," says Steven Aronin, Waterbury's chief of infectious diseases. If suspended workers get the vaccine, "they can come back immediately," he says.

    Most hospitals allow for religious and medical exemptions to the mandate policies. Children's allows a note from an employee's spiritual leader as religious exemption. Staff who receive exemptions may need to take other protections, such as wearing a mask during the flu season.

    The mandates appear to be effective at winning compliance. After Hartford Hospital mandated the flu vaccine this year, 99.2% of its workers were vaccinated, up from 70% last year under a voluntary policy (Weir, Hartford Courant, 12/5; Barnes, ABC 11 News, 12/3; Schmitt, "Medical Unit," ABC News, 12/4).

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