Protecting patients from the flu starts with employees


One of the most effective ways to prevent patients from getting the flu is to vaccinate employees.

Though that sounds obvious enough, many healthcare employees are still skipping the shot. According to the CDC, 78.4 percent of the nation’s healthcare employees received the flu vaccination during the 2017-2018 flu season. While that’s higher than the U.S. adult rate of around 45 percent, it’s still shy of The Joint Commission’s requirement that all hospitals have a flu vaccination rate of 90 percent by 2020.

Why is it so difficult to convince healthcare employees, the very people who work with those at high-risk for flu-related complications, to get the shot? Explanations range from fear of contracting the flu or flu-like symptoms to fear of the shot or simply not enough time to do so.

Whatever the case, Mary Ellen Hatch, vice president of nursing operations for Encompass Health, said with the exception of those who have extreme allergies to the vaccine, there’s no excuse for healthcare employees not to get the shot. 

“If you do not get vaccinated and become ill with the flu, you could spread it to the vulnerable populations,” Hatch said. “It is the right thing to do to protect those around you even if you do not care about suffering with flu symptoms yourself.”  

Every year, Encompass Health offers free flu shots to employees at their hospitals for added convenience, and company and hospital leadership begin working well before flu season to inform employees of the importance of getting the shot.

Hatch said that often starts with debunking those myths surrounding the shot. She offers the following responses to common excuses for not getting a flu shot:

The shot will give me the flu

Hatch: No matter what urban myth you have read or what your neighbor said happened to them 10 years ago, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. Since 1942 the vaccine has been made from deactivated portions of the influenza virus. There are different processes to create the vaccine, but in all cases, a purification takes place to remove the possibility of the vaccine causing influenza. Additionally, the influenza virus is transmitted via droplets being inhaled through the mouth or nose. The injection is going into a muscle, not your mouth or nose. 

I don’t want to experience the flu symptoms that the shot gives you

Hatch: You may experience some minor symptoms such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, fever, headache, nausea and muscle aches. This is your body’s response to the vaccine, building up your ability to fight the virus may be exposed to later. Most clinicians recommend taking something mild for fever and aches, drinking plenty of water and using the arm where the injection was given to speed up relief.

The flu vaccine doesn’t prevent against all strains of the flu. What’s the point?

Hatch: The point is that it will prevent the strains in the vaccine, leaving you only susceptible to the strain not included. The World Health Organization makes decisions annually regarding the seasonal influenza vaccine’s components based on the activity of strains of influenza being experienced. This year’s quadrivalent vaccine protects against two type A and two type B forms of influenza. These forms represent the most commonly seen forms of influenza at present. Studies over the last two years supported a reduction in severity of illness in patients who had been vaccinated but became ill with influenza. 

Other techniques that leadership can use to encourage employees to get vaccinated include: 

·Send regular reminders/updates to managers/department leaders encouraging vaccination and/or identifying staff members who have not received the shot

·Schedule presentations and/or question/answer sessions about the importance of getting the vaccine and the safety of flu vaccination 

·Give recognition to departments and employees that are ahead in the campaign (‘gamify’ the vaccination campaign)

·Frequently offer the vaccination and/or ask staff members about their vaccination status when interacting with them for other reasons