News Release
November 14, 2013

Penn Medicine Physician Argues for Mandatory Flu Vaccinations of Health Care Workers

Health Care Providers Debate Over Mandatory Flu Shots for Hospital Staff

PHILADELPHIA — Should flu vaccines be mandatory for health care workers? That’s the question raised this week in the British Medical Journal to two health care providers, including Penn Medicine’s Amy J. Behrman, MD, in a “Head to Head” piece that argues both sides of the debate.

Behrman, the medical director of Occupational Medicine Services at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and associate professor of Emergency Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn, believes that mandatory vaccination is needed to protect vulnerable patients, while an emergency department nurse from Vancouver General Hospital in Canada argues that evidence on effectiveness is not sufficient to over-ride health care workers’ right to choose.

Both authors cite past studies and raise ethical issues to make their case.

Influenza vaccines are not only estimated to prevent thousands of hospital admissions and millions of illnesses annually, but they are also safe and have the greatest protective effect  in healthy non-elderly adults, precisely the demographic of most health care workers, Behrman states.  

For this reason, vaccinating hospital staff can improve patient safety, as well as protecting health care workers. Mandatory staff vaccination help protect patients who are at the highest risk for influenza complications and most likely to be in a hospital setting: elderly people, infants, patients with heart and lung disease, and patients with compromised immune systems.

“Health care institutions should maximize the use and benefit of a vaccine that is moderately effective, extremely safe, and logically likely to reduce the risk of healthcare acquired influenza for vulnerable patients as well as decrease illness among health care workers,” Behrman writes.  “First do no harm.”

Ideally, workers will take individual responsibility for being fully immunized, but when that does not occur, health care institutions have an ethical obligation to intervene, just as they do to optimize hand washing and minimize surgical site errors, she said.

In 2009, the University of Pennsylvania Health System approved a mandatory policy for all staff, after extensive efforts to improve voluntary immunization rates were insufficient, and after an internal survey on attitudes toward immunization mandates found overwhelming medical staff support.

The health care provider from Vancouver General Hospital, on the other hand, argues that vaccinating health care workers has not been shown to reduce the transmission of influenza to patients by rigorous criteria. A recent Cochrane review of five studies found no evidence that vaccinating health care workers prevents influenza or its complications in individuals in long term care, and thus no evidence to mandate compulsory vaccination, he states. 

He also notes that the vaccine often only imparts partial immunity and may last for less than the entire flu season. 

Health care workers, according to him, should protect patients from influenza by isolating people with symptoms of respiratory infection, improving infection control, covering coughs, washing hands, and staying home when sick. For him, influenza vaccination should remain a personal decision until there is more persuasive evidence.

The full article, titled “Should influenza vaccination be mandatory for healthcare workers?, can be found here.

###

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.

Print/Share

Print version

Share/Save/Bookmark

Media Contact

Steve Graff
O: 215-349-5653
C: 215-301-5221

Other Contacts

Department of Communications
(Media Relations):

P: 215-662-2560
F: 215-349-8312

For Patients and the General Public:
1-800-789-7366

PennMedicine.org
Contact Penn Medicine

Media Resources

Contact Us|Facebook
Media Guidelines|Facts
Uplink Facility|Photos
RSS Feeds| Twitter