Mandatory Flu Shot For Health Care Workers, Patient Protection Or Politics?

Heath care professionals all over the country are being told to accept a flu shot, wear a mask, or lose their jobs. These mandates are purportedly in the name of patient safety. However, this isn’t as easy of a decision as it would appear to most. Despite general beliefs that the flu shot is safe and effective, highly respected institutions such as the Cochrane Review have repeatedly found little to no benefit to the flu vaccine in healthy adults, or in health care workers, even in years when the strain in the shot closely matches the virus circulating among the general population. When the shot is nearly a complete mismatch, like this year, it makes the decision even more difficult.

As has been reported by the Inquisitr, the CDC has admitted that the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot is only a measly 23 percent. In “good” years, the cited percentage is anywhere from 60 -90 percent, but even those numbers are being called into question by a variety of sources.

Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist who was in charge of the influenza response at a major Maryland hospital, took issue with the way the CDC was calculating the 62 percent efficacy numbers it touted for the 2012-2013 flu season. He concluded that the CDC was measuring effectiveness using a method known as odds ratio (OR) instead of the more commonly used relative risk (RR) method. When he ran the numbers using the OR method, the CDC’s numbers matched his own. When he switched to the RR method, the method normally used in cohort studies, he found the flu shot’s effectiveness was only 44 percent. He noted another abnormality in their numbers as they pertained to the control groups. Correcting for those, he found the effectiveness numbers to be closer to 34 percent.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) does not reanalyze the CDC’s data, but has similar things to say.

“Indeed, hundreds of influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness studies have been conducted since the 1940s, and vaccine efficacy in healthy adults of 70% to 90% is frequently cited. However, the preponderance of the available influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness data is derived from studies with suboptimal methodology, poorly defined end points, or end points not proven to be associated with influenza infection. Studies using optimal methodology have not found the level of protection often attributed to the current vaccines.”

Additionally, in more bad news for health care workers who are forced to get a new vaccine every year, CIDRAP reports on a recent study that appears to show that serial vaccination (subsequent years) decreases the effectiveness even further.

The strains of the flu that go into the shot are an educated guess. Not a guarantee. Even when the strains are matched to what is sickening people, the flu shot is not even close to 100 percent effective in preventing transmission, limiting sick days, hospital admissions, or secondary infections. Despite these prodigious shortcomings, many major health care centers are forcing their workers to choose between a marginally effective shot (some few allow their employees to opt for a mask) or their jobs, in the name of patient safety. However, in light of the CDC disclosure that the shot doesn’t contain the proper strains, no major medical centers have made the jump to requiring their vaccinated personnel to wear masks, even though the vaccine isn’t really protecting anyone this year. The real story may be not patient protection, but federal dollars. The ACA has made changes to federal reimbursements by adding a long list of requirements. One of those requirements is the disclosure of employee vaccination rates. Failure to disclose, or hit target percentages, may result in loss of reimbursements. For health care workers who react poorly to the flu shot, they now risk their health to keep their job, potentially in the name of money for their employer.

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