Should Hospital Workers Who Don’t Get a Flu Shot Be Required to Wear a Mask?

(Photo: Yasser Alghofily)

A few weeks ago, before the flu was national news, a reader who works at a hospital in Portland, Or., wrote to say: “The organization I work for just started this policy, I think it is very interesting and may push those who don’t want to get a flu shot for whatever reason to get a flu shot to avoid the stigma of wearing a mask. The employee comment section has ranged from HIPPA violations to discrimination for those who can’t have a flu shot based on egg allergies.”

Here’s the policy:

You may have heard by now: Flu season is ramping up in Oregon, with cases now starting to affect hospitalized patients in greater numbers. For individuals whose immune systems are compromised by other conditions, the flu can be life threatening.

To keep patients safe, a new Influenza Vaccination and Masking policy requires that workforce members do one of two things during flu season:

  • Get vaccinated. Free vaccinations are available through Occupational Health. If you’ve already gotten a vaccination somewhere other than Occupational Health — but haven’t been offered an official blue check mark sticker on your ID badge to reflect that fact — make sure you’ve filled out your attestation form.
  • Wear a mask. If the vaccine’s not for you or you just haven’t gotten it yet, policy requires that starting at 12 p.m. on Dec. 19 — and until the active implementation is lifted — yellow procedure masks must be worn within 6 feet of patients in patient care areas.

Remember: The official blue check mark sticker on your photo ID badge is the visual key used to determine who needs to wear a mask. Wearing the sticker is a choice, for those who have been vaccinated, but without it masks are required.

This doesn’t strike me as unreasonable. After all, hospitals are in the business of making sick people well, not making sick people sicker, and one thing a flu vaccine is meant to accomplish is to stop relatively healthy people from passing along a flu to more vulnerable people.

Your thoughts? 


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  1. Tam Dl says:

    What I heard out east here was that the currently circulating , and troublesome flu virus is not one of those included in this year’s shot. That still leaves other potential threats the current vaccine could protect against. But it is a 100% fail on the main threat.

    Basically if one wants to mask the hold-outs, why not the rest? The risk is very high this year.

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  2. Butcher says:

    You can get the virus and be a carrier, whether you had the flu shot or not.

    You can spread the disease whether you were vaccinated or not, you can spread the virus weeks before you even know you have symptoms.

    There are four main flu viruses circulating the country the flu shot is only good for three of these, one of the swine flu’s are not covered.

    So with this logic everyone in the country should wear a yellow mask.

    35% of the people who had flu shots came down with the flu.

    These diseases mutate and change forms, this can happen also when the disease is passed from one person to another, no vaccine will mutate to protect you…

    Flu and disease have always been with mankind, and will always be, this flu shot sounds like mideval thinking, giving a dead virus will somehow stop what nature has put in place.

    Look into the CDC’s own statistics, of how ineffective this government campaign has been.

    But they seem to have been very effective into scaring uneducated people to run down and get flu shots, thinking somehow they will be safe, or escape the virus, or would not be carriers of the virus, if they were injected with a dead disease.

    What If Hitler had this technology, and passed laws everyone who wishes to work must get vaccinated and spread the kind of propaganda we see with this flu shot, you had better hope you have blue eyes when getting your shot from the Gestapo.

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  3. Anurse says:

    I had a flu shot 23 years ago was bedridden sick for over 72 hours couldn’t keep a sip of water down. Probably should have been hospitalized but recovered at home.

    I have been in nursing for over 20 years NEVER had a another flu shot. Have had the flu twice in the past 23 years~ lasted no more than 24-36 hours and I was FULLY recovered within 72 hours.

    I would rather quit nursing than subject myself to a federally funded drug experiment~ they create these “new” vaccines and have no idea what the long term effects.

    I am nurse but I am a human being. My life, my body, my choice!

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  4. Anurse says:

    The FDA and the CDC obtain funding and “suggestions” from private companies like pharmaceutical corporations. These companies profit when they get FDA approval and their products are cleared for take off.

    And people who invest in these companies~ make money as well.
    The federal government has invested in the influenza vaccine industry.

    How many times we have seen a medication or a medical procedure suddenly off the market because “after further review…” you know the rest.

    If they can get health care workers to use the flu vaccine then they can “suggest” it to everyone else!

    So in 10 years or so those sheep who followed the rules and repeatedly subjected themselves to the annual “flu shot” begin to show signs of brain damage whose going to be handling your care?

    Those of us who still know how to think for ourselves may or may not be interested in picking up the slack.

    But don’t hold your breath, if you don’t support us now we will probably not care what happens to you in the future. And there is your Karma!

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  5. Sharona says:

    In my family there is a history of Guillain–Barré syndrome which was contracted from the flu vaccine. There is not enough information about how genetics may play into this contraction. I choose to not put myself and my children at risk for this and now I am being forced to wear a mask all the time while I work in a hospital and I do not work with patients in any way. The building where I sit doesn’t have any patients.

    Is that fair? What should I do?

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  6. Donald says:

    Interesting debate – where I am from (Sydney Australia) such dramatic measures have not as yet been suggested but perhaps it is only a matter of time. Our fairly outspoken cival libertarians would have a lot of fun with the idea.

    As a front line health employee (anaesthetist – what the US would call an anaesthesiologist) officially I am expected to call in sick at the public hospitals I work at if I contract the flu; unofficially I am stongly discouraged from calling in sick unless I absolutely cannot get to work (eg. shark attack etc)

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  7. Ronald B Low says:

    Hospitals also require workers to wash their hands and, in many places, wear masks whether they have been vaccinated or not. We wouldn’t allow a surgeon to sneeze onto the new kidney she just was sewing to your body. Sneezing flu viruses onto grandma in the ICU is about as dangerous. The true incidence of egg allergy is pretty rare.

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  8. Eva says:

    Stephen, Since you guys are great at looking at the cost/benefit of things, you should calculate the cost/benefit of the flu vaccine. The results will shock you. Roughly 7% of all influenza like illness (ILI) is influenza. With the 30-70 efficacy, even if you vaccinate 90% of health care workers, you only cover them against 2-4% of the ILIs circulating in a given year. That is a paltry return on investment, not mentioning the potential side effects that may cost the hospital even more than absenteeism from the flu. Furthermore, there is zero evidence that taking the flu vaccine will actually prevent someone else getting the flu since you cannot talk about herd immunity from a vaccine that is less than 90% effective. Health care workers and patients are better off washing their hands and staying home when sick.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      Your primary complaint seems to be that the influenza vaccine doesn’t prevent other diseases with similar symptoms. That seems unreasonable to me.

      You have provided no cost to weigh against your unsourced numbers for the benefit, which are themselves expressed as percentages of an unknown (but very likely quite large) number, the total IFI count for a year. Therefore, your conclusion about return on investment is unsupported.

      Here’s a chart showing herd immunity thresholds given the various factors involved, and it can be viewed (annoyingly as a single-slide PowerPoint presentation) at . For example, a 60% effective vaccine like a middling year’s flu shot tips into herd immunity against a middling flu with a 2.5 base reproduction number at 90% coverage.

      There is a vast amount of high-quality research available demonstrating that influenza vaccines prevent people from getting influenza; it’s kind of the point. I’ve linked some in other comments, and it’s trivial to find with even the simplest search.

      Nothing about a flu shots implies that those who get them can’t wash their hands and stay home when they’re sick.

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      • Jon says:

        Here is the pubmed article… seriously I couldn’t understand that graph on its own… you should link original articles when you can… thanks!

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        Jon: I posted that link in 2 prior comments. To be honest, I was a bit afraid of tripping some antispam protections if I kept posting the same links. People keep making the same false claims; I feel compelled to answer them, but I don’t want to be too repetitive or get banned from commenting at a site I rather enjoy. Also, a copyable DOI link to the article is in the PowerPoint file, so at least it has one advantage.

        The graph itself is a pretty straightforward contour map, though I suppose they might be unfamiliar to some. Effectively, higher reproductive numbers for a virus mean a higher climb up a metaphorical mountain, which is sloped differently with respect to vaccine coverage and vaccine effectiveness but always increasing or flat with each at any given point.

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