Effective this influenza season, healthcare workers in Los Angeles County will be required to receive immunizations against influenza or wear a protective mask while in contact with patients.
In an order issued by Public Health director Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county mandated that all workers in hospitals, nursing facilities and intermediate care facilities who work in patient areas or have direct contact with patients receive an annual flu vaccination.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important steps that healthcare personnel can take to protect their patients and themselves from the flu,” Fielding said Tuesday in a statement.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with flu-related illnesses each year. On average, 24,000 of those people die as a result of their infection with the virus.
National standards target flu vaccination rates of 90%. Fielding said that his department’s new policy is aimed to “close the gap” between actual rates of immunization among healthcare workers — around 67% nationally — and the 90% goal.
He noted that in U.S. hospitals that required immunization during the 2011-12 flu season, vaccination rates were 95%. In hospitals that did not require immunization, rates were 68%.
“This mandate offers our best chance to achieve” success, he said.
This is the first time Los Angeles has issued a flu vaccine mandate. The order will remain in effect until rescinded by the county health officer. It does not apply to healthcare workers in the cities of Long Beach or Pasadena, whose workplaces fall under separate health jurisdictions.
California law requires that employers offer the vaccinations for free to healthcare workers. But last year some healthcare workers in Los Angeles County still resisted getting a flu shot, according to a report in The Times.
Chuck Idelson, spokesman for the California Nurses Assn. in Oakland, said that although his union encourages nurses to get immunizations, it opposes vaccine mandates, regarding them as punitive.
“It’s not a fail safe solution to prevent infection,” he said.