Newswise — DALLAS – March 8, 2018 – Mandatory flu vaccines for health care workers improve participation by as much as 30 percent and reduce absenteeism during critical periods of patient surges by about 6 percent, findings from a multi-institutional study show.

Previous work focused on the impact of health care worker vaccination on improving patient outcomes. The findings expand the potential benefits of an institutional policy and help settle previous conflicting data on whether the mandatory policies reduce health care worker absenteeism. As seen this year, health care institutions can struggle to care for surging numbers of patients with influenza when the number of workers available is declining due to illness.

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If you get the flu:

  • The key is to see your doctor early during the illness because anti-viral therapy is most effective if used within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
  • Always see a physician immediately if you’re having chest pains or trouble breathing – both of these symptoms may be an indication of pneumonia.
  • Beware of potential build-up of acetaminophen and over-the-counter medicines.

Most common symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Body aches
  • Coughing and sneezing

Strategies to reduce infection risk:

  • Practice good hand hygiene – wash your hands often and be mindful of what you touch, including your keyboard, cell phone, handshakes and doorknobs. Both washing your hands or using hand sanitizers can help, although the alcohol-based gels may be easier on sensitive skin.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use your sleeve if you don’t have a tissue handy. Avoid touching nose of coughing into hands.
  • Protect your household – all those who are eligible to get the flu vaccine should. Doing this also helps protect anyone in your household (newborns and those with other medical conditions) who may not be eligible to get one.
  • If your child contracts the flu, try to keep him or her home from school.
  • If you contract the flu, don’t try to be a champion – stay home until you’re healthy.

“Studies suggest that higher vaccination rates among health care workers decrease patient mortality and health care associated influenza in certain settings,” said Dr. Trish Perl, Chief of Infectious Diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and one of the study corresponding authors and overall Principal Investigator. “In addition, absenteeism can pose a serious threat to how effectively a hospital is able to manage the surge of patients during an outbreak. Our study shows that mandatory vaccination policies help maintain better staffing levels and staffing options during those critical surges.”

Researchers studied the effects over three separate flu seasons at three institutions with mandatory vaccination policies and four institutions that offered optional vaccination. For all individuals studied (4,000-plus health care workers), vaccination was offered free and on-site.

Researchers found that:

  • At mandatory sites, 97 percent, 96 percent and 92 percent of health care workers received vaccinations in the three years studied.
  • At nonmandatory sites, 67 percent, 63 percent, and 60 percent of workers were vaccinated over the same period.
  • Absenteeism among health care workers was about 6 percent lower at mandatory sites than nonmandatory sites, and the number of days absent also was lower.
  • Males, older workers, and those at nonmandatory vaccination sites had longer durations of sick leave.
  • Vaccinated health care workers had a 30 percent reduction in absenteeism compared with nonvaccinated health care workers.

“This was a large study across a variety of types of institutions, including pediatric and adult acute care hospitals and VA facilities, which asked whether policies that require employees to get a flu vaccine protected both the employee as well as the institutions,” said Dr. Perl, Professor of Internal Medicine who holds the Jay P. Sanford Professorship in Infectious Diseases.

The study, which appears in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, didn’t look specifically at whether higher rates of vaccination of health care workers reduced infections among patients, but previous studies have shown that this is true, especially among the most vulnerable patient populations.

The Healthy People collaborative in the U.S. has a goal of 90 percent vaccination rates among health care workers by 2020. The study suggests that goal will be difficult to achieve with only voluntary policies, said Dr. Perl.

The study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Veterans Health Administration, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The collaborative study involved researchers from nearly 20 institutions across the country, including Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, University of Massachusetts, University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University, Medical Service in Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, VA St. Louis Health Care System, St. Louis University School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital Colorado, University of Colorado, UT Southwestern, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, University of Colorado Denver, and New York University School of Medicine.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.

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Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology