If any group of people was likely to be strongly in favor of mandatory flu shots, you’d think it would be healthcare workers in a large children's hospital. After all, influenza is responsible for an estimated 226,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the United States each year, and children are one of the most vulnerable groups.
But of 585 such workers surveyed at a large tertiary children's hospital, only 70% thought vaccination for influenza should be required, according to a study published online today in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Nearly 15% were opposed, and the rest had no opinion or were unsure.
Those attitudes matter, according to the survey -- 94% of people who favored mandatory flu shots got them, compared to 54% of those who felt they should be optional.
The study’s authors reasoned that “health care workers in children’s hospitals may have a unique perspective on influenza vaccines because they routinely recommend other vaccines for children and see the effects of underimmunization.” So the group from the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Medicine and the University of Chicago surveyed a random sample of doctors, nurses and other employees (including cafeteria workers, security officers, housekeeping staff and phlebotomists) at a single hospital.
They found that both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine survey respondents understood that influenza is dangerous to young hospital patients and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the annual flu shot. But the workers who opposed mandatory flu shots were more likely to be against mandatory vaccines of any kind. Two percent of all workers surveyed said they would quit if the hospital forced them to get a flu shot.
The survey was conducted during the 2008-2009 flu season, so the current outbreak of H1N1 swine flu (which emerged at the end of the traditional flu season) probably didn’t factor into people’s responses.
The researchers concluded that hospital employees who bristle at mandatory flu shots fall into two categories: Some are simply misinformed about the dangers of flu and of the vaccine, while others have a philosophical objection to mandatory vaccines in general.
The authors point out that hospitals do lots of inconvenient and expensive things to reduce the risk of infections, from sterilizing equipment to isolating contagious patients. Requiring employees to get flu shots should be added to the list, they say.
-- Karen Kaplan
Photo: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting the annual flu shot. Credit: Amy Sancetta / Associated Press