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Requiring flu shots, masks for health workers?

July 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California lawmakers are asking why large numbers of health care workers don't get flu shots, potentially exposing patients to influenza.

Only 63 percent of health care workers nationwide get a flu vaccine.

More than 35,000 people across the country die from the flu each year. More than 200,000 are hospitalized.

The numbers are motivating California to mandate healthcare workers who don't get the flu vaccine to wear a mask when seeing patients to minimize transmission, especially to infants, senior citizens and others with weaker immune systems.

"If you're going to not get the vaccine, you should want to protect the people around you, the patients that you serve, by wearing a mask," said Dr. Anthony Russell, California Medical Association.

But the California Nurses Association opposes the mask mandate. It feels a mask will affect their relationships with patients.

"If I went in and saw a healthcare worker with a mask on, I would assume that that person was sick," said patient Deanna Quinn.

The Assembly Health Committee took up amendments. The proposal now doesn't even mention the word "mask." It now allows the California Department of Public Health in a couple of years to mandate a 90-percent flu vaccination rate at hospitals and other medical centers. If compliance rates fall below that, masks could be required, or the worker could lose their job.

Most hospitals in the United States require vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B prior to employment. More people die from the flu per year nationwide than all those diseases combined.


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