Healthcare News & Insights

Half of staffers will refuse H1N1 vaccine

New surveys indicate that up to half of health care workers plan to refuse the H1N1 flu vaccine — a step that could have huge repercussions for your own facility and the general public. Health workers generally cited fear of side effects and doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness as reasons they would avoid getting inoculated. Not helping the situation are some workers’ memories of the severe side effects experienced by a small percentage of those who got the vaccine following the infamous “Fort Dix” swine flu outbreak in ’76.

The World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and most other public health organizations strongly advise health care workers to get the vaccine, both to keep the virus from spreading and to ensure there are enough healthy workers to keep facilities staffed at the worst of the outbreak.

Forcing workers to get vaccinated (if that’s even an option) is a sticky legal/ethical area and can create even more problems by damaging staff morale.

But there are still steps you can take to minimize the impact of the virus on your own facilities’ operations. As with most challenges hospitals and medical practices face, your two most powerful weapons are education and a solid dose of prevention.

To allay workers’ fears about side effects and effectiveness, direct them to the CDC’s information page on the latest vaccination news. The site is updated whenever there is new information and can address many of the questions they may have.

To further encourage compliance with vaccination plans, CDC recommends providing the vaccine free of charge to workers. It’s a small step that eliminates one last barrier for some staffers.

Worst-case scenario

No matter how good your efforts, it’s inevitable that some health care workers will slip through unvaccinated. All the more reason to redouble training on important basics such as using proper protective gear (respiratory and eye protection) during patient care, hand washing, etc.

If the flu virus does affect a large swath of the population, you may have to operate with greatly decreased staff — just as more people need your services. Cross-training staff so that they can lend a hand where needed is also a must-do.

If you haven’t already, you should also have a plan in place to address issues like:

  • dealing with staffers who come in with flu symptoms
  • co-ordinating with other health providers in your community if it becomes a local crisis, and
  • possible problems in getting needed supplies/equipment from vendors who become short-staffed.

You can get more detailed guidelines from the CDC here.

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