About 50 employees of Essentia Health, an upper-Midwest hospital chain, didn’t go to work Wednesday.
But it wasn’t an early start to the Thanksgiving holiday for them. They were fired for refusing to get flu shots.
It’s part of a growing trend for hospitals to require flu shots for workers. Public health experts say it shouldn’t be surprising.
“It’s a patient safety issue,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It’s so that we do not give flu to our patients.”
Hospital workers can pass the flu virus to some of the most vulnerable people — frail elderly, babies in incubators, patients with immune systems ravaged by cancer treatment. Vaccinating employees protects patients and the employees’ co-workers.
“Patients are in the hospital because they are sick,” said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Infectious Disease and Chief Patient Quality and Safety Officer at Essentia Health. “That puts them at risk of a more severe outcome from influenza. People can die from influenza.”
Each year, influenza virus kills between 4,000 and 50,000 Americans, including children who were perfectly healthy before they caught flu.
Just about everyone is advised to get a flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu vaccines for every one of the age of 6 months who doesn’t have a medical reason not to — for instance, an allergy to the vaccine.
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