Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control have strongly recommended that healthcare providers get vaccinated against influenza, particularly if they’re involved in patient care. However, some localities such as Grand Forks, North Dakota, made have flu shots mandatory for healthcare employees. A local human resources manager says that this ruling has caused people to lose their jobs. Elsewhere across the United States, similar mandates have been responsible for the termination of at least 15 hospital employees who refused to get a shot.
However, such mandates are ruffling feathers for more reasons than one. In fact, a CDC doctor noted that this year’s vaccine is only about 60% effective. Also, he clarified that it may be even less effective in elderly people, a population group that is already at a greater risk.
Catching the Virus During Patient Care
Despite these statistics, a study performed by the Wake Forest Baptist School of Medicine found that healthcare providers are even more at risk for getting the flu than was previously thought. The study shed light on the idea that some people may be able to spread influenza more easily than others, depending on how severely they are infected.
Based on the results of the study, it seems that influenza virus is most easily spread through droplets found in the nasal passages. Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that the largest of these droplets can travel up to six feet from a patient’s head. Furthermore, smaller, yet still infectious particles may reach even greater distances.
As a conclusion, the researchers recommended that healthcare providers wear face masks during all parts of patient care. However, they mentioned that further studies are needed to determine with more certainty whether or not certain carriers of the flu are more easily able to infect others with the virus.
Protection Doesn’t Begin Right Away
Even healthcare providers who get the flu shot as advised aren’t protected right away. A news bulletin on NPR noted that it takes about two weeks for a person’s immune system to respond to the vaccination. Also, the vaccines don’t cover all strains of the flu virus, and could infect a person with another type of virus, such as one that targets the respiratory system.
Mandatory for Canadians?
Despite the conflicting data, Canada is debating having mandatory flu shots for healthcare workers there. A Canadian study which studied the effectiveness of the flu shot specifically in that country found that it could cut a person’s risk nearly in half. Perhaps this is because research has found that this year’s vaccine is most effective at protecting against the H3N2 virus strain, which has been predominant in Canada this season, according to the Huffington Post.
Since it will likely take several months to reach a decision about whether or not to make flu shots mandatory for people who work in healthcare, perhaps the best course of action for now is to enforce stronger protection methods during patient care routines.
Beyond the Wake Forest study findings that some people may be able to pass the flu on to others much more easily than usual, new “superbug” type viruses are rapidly emerging. Clearly, tougher methods to prevent transmission could help protect against the spread of more than just the flu.
Eryn Greene is an avid healthcare blogger. If you are interested in a health care career, several schools offer programs in the field, such as the University of San Francisco and John Hopkins University.