NEW YORK NURSE: July/August 2009
The New York State Hospital Planning and Review Council (SHRPC) Codes and Regulations Committee has recommended that the state impose a regulation that requires anyone who provides direct patient care to receive an annual immunization for influenza. The regulation was put forward as an emergency rule and could take effect before this winter’s flu season.
The committee and the state Department of Health argue that forcing healthcare workers to get flu shots will improve patient safety and reduce costs due to worker illness. In testimony delivered at the committee’s July 23 meeting, NYSNA stated that the regulation was seriously flawed and would not prevent spread of the flu virus.
For example, the rule does not address what will happen if there is a shortage of vaccine or the vaccine is poorly matched with the circulating influenza virus.
“While we encourage nurses to be immunized for the flu, we do not agree that nurses should be required to get immunizations as a condition of employment,” said Eileen Avery, RN, associate director of the association’s Education, Practice & Research Program.
“The seasonal flu vaccine is not 100% effective and sometimes is highly ineffective, as it was in 2005 and 2007,” Avery said. “There is no guarantee that in any given year, the public will benefit from mandatory immunization of healthcare providers.”
The regulation would affect all healthcare personnel, both paid and unpaid, who interact with patients in hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, certified home health agencies, long-term healthcare programs, AIDS home care programs, licensed home care services, and hospices.
SHRPC has no jurisdiction over nursing homes. An immunization mandate for nursing home personnel would have to be enacted through legislation.
There will be little room for healthcare personnel to refuse immunization. A worker will be exempt only if a physician or nurse practitioner verifies that the vaccine is medically contraindicated.
“There is no exemption for religious or cultural preferences regarding immunization, effectively blocking individuals who have these beliefs from earning their livelihood,” Avery said.
NYSNA is studying the possible impact of the regulation and will be providing more information to its members this fall.
“Clearly, this would have a major impact on both nurses and the facilities where they work,” said NYSNA CEO Tina Gerardi. “There will be issues such as how and when immunizations will be provided, provisions for nurses whose health do not allow them to be immunized, and what actions will be taken if there is a vaccine shortage.”
The text of NYSNA’s testimony is available at nysna.org