NEW YORK NURSE: October 2012
by Erin Silk
NYSNA urges all registered nurses to get their seasonal influenza vaccination this fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get an influenza vaccination during the influenza season. CDC also recommends that all healthcare providers should be immunized each year against seasonal influenza. Nurses and other healthcare providers have an ethical obligation to protect themselves, their families, and the patients they serve from influenza illness.
NYSNA recognizes the importance of a comprehensive infection prevention program of which voluntary vaccination is an integral part.
In addition to annual voluntary influenza vaccination of eligible patients, healthcare personnel, and the general public, a comprehensive influenza infection control plan includes:
Successful vaccination programs should include educational components that address the benefits and common misconceptions of vaccination, offering the vaccine at no cost and at a time and place convenient for workers, and employing other strategies that have been proven to work. In June 2009, the Joint Commission issued a monograph with examples of 28 health care organizations that have improved their immunization rates by implementing comprehensive infection control strategies.
NYSNA does not support a mandate for un-vaccinated nurses to wear a face mask during flu season. The requirement to wear a face mask without an appropriate risk hazard analysis is inappropriate. Furthermore, the use of a face mask to control the spread of the virus neglects the OSHA hierarchy of controls which requires that the employer must first seek to eliminate the hazard. Offering the vaccine is one method to help eliminate the hazard. For those who do not, or cannot take the vaccine, the use of paid sick time during periods of infectivity is the most appropriate strategy. The use of a face mask on an infected nurse only deflects the infective particles; it does not eliminate the risk of transmission. As such, the mandate to wear a mask provides little or no protection to the patient.
NYSNA takes a firm position that any legislation, regulation or policy that addresses the issue of influenza vaccination or mandate to wear a face mask for healthcare workers should encourage healthcare facilities to implement comprehensive influenza infection control programs, which includes the provision of free vaccination as one of several components. The association will uphold the right of RNs to choose whether or not they wish to be vaccinated, maintaining that doing so should not be a condition of employment. NYSNA supports the use of paid sick time for infected nurses versus a mandate to wear a face mask.
NYSNA’s protection of nurses’ workplace rights, however, should not be confused with the message we are delivering to nurses: Get the seasonal influenza vaccination and stay home if you are sick! As a trusted profession, we owe it to ourselves, our families and our patients to get vaccinated and set a good example for all. Through the cooperation of healthcare facilities, healthcare workers and policymakers, we can improve voluntary vaccination rates, establish effective flu prevention and control efforts, and safeguard the public’s health.
For more information on influenza and immunization, visit nysna.org/flu or call the NYSNA hotline at 518.782.9400, ext 346.