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October 2, 2018
David Burda
Outcomes Policy System Dynamics

Healthcare Worker Flu Vaccine Rates Offer a Lesson in Self-Policing

Short of making flu shots mandatory for healthcare workers, healthcare employers need to do much more to immunize their staffs from a virus that threatens their health and the health of their patients.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals an alarming gap between the flu vaccine rates of healthcare personnel (HCP) who work in settings that require vaccines and those who work in settings that don’t.

The CDC published the new data in the Sept. 28 edition of its Morbidity and Mortality Week Report. Its release follows a study in JAMA Open Networks that found that patients’ flu vaccination rates declined the later in the day that they saw their doctors. We previously reported that study on the 4sight Health blog as an example of unnecessary variation in health services that reduces quality and raises costs.

The CDC based its new data on a survey of 2,265 HCPs. The agency asked them about their flu vaccine coverage during the 2017-2018 flu season. Overall, 78.4 percent of the HCPs said they were vaccinated against the flu virus that season. That’s off a bit from 78.6 percent during the 2016-2017 season and 79 percent during the 2015-2016 season, earlier CDC data shows.

The biggest factor that influenced flu vaccination rates in 2017-2018 was the employer’s policies. The HCP vaccination rate at healthcare employers that required shots was 94.8 percent. The HCP vaccination rate at employers that didn’t require, promote or offer onsite shots was almost half—47.6 percent.

That gap was most pronounced at hospitals. The HCP vaccination rate at hospitals that required flu shots was 96.6 percent compared with 39.9 percent at hospitals that didn’t. It was:

  • 91.2 percent to 49.4 percent at physician offices and ambulatory care sites
  • 89.3 percent to 42.4 percent at long-term care facilities
  • 90.1 percent to 54.9 percent at other clinical settings like pharmacies, labs and dentist offices

“Implementing comprehensive evidence-based worksite intervention strategies is important to ensure health care personnel and patients are protected against influenza,” the CDC said.

That’s the agency’s polite way of saying, if you’re not going to make your staff get flu shots, you’ve got to do a lot more by way of education and incentives to get them immunized.

Regulation steps in when self-policing fails. That’s an important healthcare policy lesson to remember as the 2018-2019 flu season gets underway.


David Burda is a columnist for 4sight Health and news editor of 4sight Friday, our weekly newsletter. Follow Burda on Twitter @DavidRBurda and on LinkedIn. Read his bio here

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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