TORONTO, Nov. 2, 2012 /CNW/ – Heavy-handed promotion that gives the impression that anyone who is immunized will be protected from flu is misleading based on a key analysis of flu studies published in the respected medical journal The Lancet. Researchers behind the study found the flu vaccine is only about 59 percent effective.
"To target health care workers and take away their right to choose by making the flu shot mandatory, is misdirected in the face of recent evidence that 41 per cent of people who get a flu vaccine receive no protection against the flu," says Michael Hurley the president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU).
In addition, flu is not the major cause of patient and resident death. Research estimates that every year thousands more Ontarians die from medical errors, bed sores and hospital-acquired infections than they do from the flu. Studies also show that more than half these deaths are preventable and associated with the hospital (facility) environment including overcrowding and understaffing.
About 10.5 percent of Ontario hospital admissions or about 122,598 patients resulted in a hospital-acquired infection (HAI), which does not include the flu. A recent Canadian study found that the chances of a hospital patient getting a life-threatening superbug, increases by 10 percent mainly because they share a bathroom.
OCHU has consistently advocated for making hospital environments safer by ending provincial policies like high bed occupancy, understaffing and reduced cleaning, all of which are linked to the rise in superbug infections and medical errors. "Doing this will save far more lives and improve safety for hospital patients and nursing home residents than taking away the right of health care staff to choose what goes into their bodies by forcing them to have a flu shot as a condition of employment," says Hurley.
This week the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) argued against a mandatory flu shot for health care workers on the grounds that a "reliance on a mandatory influenza vaccination policy may provide health care workers, health care facility management and patients with an unwarranted sense of security and result in poor adherence to other infection control practices that prevent all types of infections, not just influenza… Furthermore, the current influenza vaccine is no magic bullet. The current state of influenza vaccine technology requires annual reformulation and revaccination and the efficacy is quite variable."
Hospital patient and nursing home resident safety is important to the health care staff represented by OCHU. Coupled with the doubtful efficacy of the flu vaccine, some staff have adverse reactions and get ill after the flu shot. "Understaffing at hospitals is rampant and staff who take sick days are often harassed," says Hurley. Also half the hospital work force is part-time. "They have no sick days to take should they react to the vaccine."
OCHU is the hospital division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) which represents over 70,000 Ontario health care workers, including registered practical nurses, personal support workers and administrative and custodial staff.