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. Eva says:

    As for the mask, this may sound like a good solution but it is like the white coat or a necktie. Unless changed often, it can become a carrier of germs. In addition, some people with asthma cannot wear them. A nurse with asthma who was forced to choose between the shot and the mask, ended up in the ICU after her flu shot. The mask is really just a penalizing measure in this case (not the same as a surgeon wearing a mask) but not a meaningful solution. The flu vaccine mandates are just a way for bureaucrats to check a box and feel good that they are doing something about hospital infections.

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  2. Pshrnk says:

    Hospitals may not be in the business of getting people sicker, but if you compare nosocomial MRSA rates in American hospitals to those in places like the Netherlands you might wonder.

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  3. GLK says:

    Might make sense if hospital workers were the only ones coming in contact with patients but they’re not. There are lots of comings and goings in hospitals from the patient’s friends and family members to contractors, vendors, delivery workers, maintenance people, sales reps, on and on it goes… Hospitals are a veritable bee hive of people coming and going, add the fact that flu shots are maybe 60% effective and really, who’s fooling whom? Basically I see the flu shot policy as more of a PR activity than anything that’s actually effective in a meaningful way.

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  4. Nancy says:

    No one has yet been able to say whether all these vaccines being given won’t create a super virus. It happened with antibiotics, they are being used effectively, for the most part, not abused. Seems as if we’re asking for trouble, but we do seem to be a society of “fast action” then face the consequences instead of thinking things through logically

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    • Ronald Low says:

      Jenner started vaccinating against smallpox in 1796–so far, no super smallpox virus. Pasteur started vaccinating against rabies and the population of vaccinated potential hosts of rabies (mostly dogs and cats, also a few people like me) is HUGE–but so far, so super rabies. Other virus vaccines used much more often than penicillinase resistant penicillins: measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B. So far, no superviruses in over 200 years of vaccine use.

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      • Ronald Low says:

        P.S. I forgot polio, another widely used vaccine for over 50 years. It’s new, but so far, no super HPV, and no super veneral warts or super cervical cancer, thank God.
        For that matter, vaccination against bacteria have not produced bacteria resistant to vaciination: super pneumococcus or super meningococcus–though there are some strains that are resistant to some antibiotics.

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      • Nancy says:

        Every vaccine that you mentioned, such as polio, were made from a live virus and made specific to the disease unlike the flu vaccine, which is a guess as to what the virus may be. That is the same as giving an antibiotic for an infection that has not been identified, alas, MRSA

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  5. Nancy says:

    Any bacteria that is cultured and treated specifically are treated successfully. It’s when we start trying to outguess nature that we ask for problems. We need to let our immune systems fight for itself, when it can’t then treat the cause. Every drug comes with side effects, even so called natural ones. We can never know enough to trick nature, maybe work with it, but not trick it

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  6. Nancy says:

    New update, there is now a whooping cough that is resistant to the whooping cough vaccine

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  7. Umrah says:

    “I am not sure that … flu shots are all that effective.” Would you care to cite some evidence for your assertion against the overwhelming body of research?

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  8. San Diego PT says:

    Such diverse comments, sadly many of these have a hostile tone. For those of you who do not work in the health care field (and those that do), your concerns are understood. No one wants to get the flu. Certainly not from the person taking care of you.

    A health care worker’s responsibility is to stay home when they get sick, returning when they are well, thus keeping patients safe. I just received a memo stating that my hospital will begin mandatory flu shot requirements in 2013 with the option of using a mask.

    I have been working in the health care field for nearly 15 years and have been sick 2 times from the flu, both times I stayed home. I have never received the flu shot, I am a healthy person and want my body and immune system to stay strong and fight any illnesses that come my way.

    Almost every person I know who has had the flu shot, and believe me most people I know get it, most of them have been sick several times per year even while getting the shots. Yes, I am very skeptical about vaccines. I know many of them have helped people over the years such as polio, measles, etc. But the flu vaccine seems more like a “guess” of what viruses may cause problems over the following year.

    I understand the push for these vaccines, but I believe the number one way of prevention is not a vaccine, but good old fashioned solid care which includes “universal precautions” such as washing hands, using a clean technique or sterile if needed in certain day to day situations. And also to STAY HOME when sick! That should be mandatory, but then you see people at work with red sniffly noses. And they did get the flu shot. So where does that leave us.

    It was interesting about one person’s comment of 60% success with the vaccine. Thats close to 50/50 if you ask me. I don’t like putting “unknowns” in my body or my children both of whom have not received the flu shot either. They are are perfectly healthy. Our country puts way too much emphasis on flu vaccines and drugs. Let mother nature do the work. Unfortunately, some people die from the flu, even those who do take flu shot.

    I don’t want to wear a mask, but I will and I will still give the best care I can and instill confidence in my patients as I always do. I am sorry for those who have been fired, that is wrong. No one should be forced, end of story.

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