PITTSBURGH, Aug. 29, 2014 – In an effort to provide the best possible care for its patients UPMC will institute a universal influenza immunization policy for all staff working in clinical locations starting in the 2015-2016 flu season.
The new policy will not affect this season’s flu immunization policy, which strongly encourages employees to get the flu shot and requires those who do not to complete an educational program on the benefits of the vaccine. If they still do not receive the flu shot, employees must acknowledge that they understand the potential health risks created by their decision.
“Influenza is a very serious – and potentially deadly – disease,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer of UPMC. “It is easily spread from person to person, which is very worrisome in a health care setting. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu shot is our best defense against influenza. You cannot get influenza from the flu shot, and new formulations make it safer and more effective than ever before.”
The severity of the flu season varies from year to year. Over the past 30 years, federal estimates of annual flu-related deaths typically range from a low of 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
Numerous national health advisory organizations, including the American Hospital Association, Infectious Disease Society of America and American College of Physicians, support mandatory influenza immunization for health care workers. Other leading health care organizations, including Johns Hopkins University Hospitals, Mayo Clinic and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have mandatory flu vaccination policies.
After instituting the mandatory declination policy last season, UPMC saw its flu vaccination rates increase by more than 10 percent, with more than 80 percent of hospital staff already receiving the flu vaccine, well above the most recent statistics on nationwide health care worker vaccination rates.
“We’re really proud of this accomplishment,” said Ms. Minnier. “But we believe we can do even better.”
UPMC kicks off this season’s annual system-wide employee flu shot clinics Sept. 9, with hundreds of clinics offered at various UPMC locations throughout the season. The flu shot is offered free to all employees.
This year, UPMC also will be adding three new flu shot options, beyond the standard flu vaccine, which is made each year to protect against the three strains of flu that world health officials predict are most likely to be in circulation. As supplies are available, these flu shots will also be offered:
A vaccine called “inactivated influenza vaccine 4,” or IIV4, which adds a fourth strain for protection against the four flu strains most likely to be circulating.
A “high-dose” vaccine, which has four times the part of the vaccine that prompts antibodies against the flu. It is recommended for adults 65 and older.
A “recombinant influenza vaccine,” or RIV, which does not contain any egg protein and is safe for adults ages 18 to 49 with severe egg allergies.
While these additional options make it possible for the vast majority of UPMC employees to receive the flu shot, those who have a medical condition that advise against receiving the flu shot will be exempt from next season’s universal flu shot policy.
Staff who do not work in clinical locations and choose not to receive a flu shot will still be required to complete the mandatory education and declination program next season, the same as this year.