According to the most recent federal data, about 63 percent of U.S. health care workers had flu shots as of November. That’s up from previous years, but the government wants 90 percent coverage of health care workers by 2020.
The highest rate, about 88 percent, was among pharmacists, followed by doctors at 84 percent, and nurses, 82 percent. Fewer than half of nursing assistants and aides are vaccinated, Bridges said.
Some hospitals have achieved 90 percent but many fall short. A government health advisory panel has urged those below 90 percent to consider a mandatory program.
Also, the accreditation body over hospitals requires them to offer flu vaccines to workers, and those failing to do that and improve vaccination rates could lose accreditation.
Starting this year, the government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is requiring hospitals to report employees’ flu vaccination rates as a means to boost the rates, the CDC’s Bridges said. Eventually the data will be posted on the agency’s “Hospital Compare” website.
Several leading doctor groups support mandatory flu shots for workers. And the American Medical Association in November endorsed mandatory shots for those with direct patient contact in nursing homes; elderly patients are particularly vulnerable to flu-related complications. The American Nurses Association supports mandates if they’re adopted at the state level and affect all hospitals, but also says exceptions should be allowed for medical or religious reasons.
Mandates for vaccinating health care workers against other diseases, including measles, mumps and hepatitis, are widely accepted. But some workers have less faith that flu shots work — partly because there are several types of flu virus that often differ each season and manufacturers must reformulate vaccines to try and match the circulating strains.
While not 100 percent effective, this year’s vaccine is a good match, the CDC’s Bridges said.