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Senate Hearing Tackles Flu Vaccination Rate

It’s important to the general public that health care workers receive  influenza inoculations, according to Senate member Lois Wolk (D-Davis), who was recently before the Senate Committee on Health to introduce SB 1318, which she hopes will increase the vaccination rate among health care professionals.

The bill would protect “our most vulnerable patients — infants, seniors and those who are immune-compromised,” Wolk said. “It would ensure that health care workers receive the influenza vaccination, or wear a mask during influenza season. It’s a choice: Get vaccinated, or wear the mask. We want to decrease the deaths from influenza, and increase the safety at hospitals.”

The California Nurses’ Association and the Service Employees International Union are against the policy, in part because they see it as singling out people who opt out of getting the vaccine, by making them wear a mask in patient care areas.

“We are opposed to this measure,” Sara Nichols, health care lobbyist for SEIU. “We’re not questioning intentions here. We all want to get vaccination rates up.”

The way to get rates up, according to Deanna Furman, legislative advocate for the California Nurses Association, is through workplace education, rather than a mandate. “We do have deep concerns about employees needing to wear a mask if they don’t get vaccinated,” Furman said. “It could create distrust and raise ethical and legal questions about workplace rights.”

Wolk said she understands health care workers’ concerns, but that it’s for a limited time, during flu season, limited in scope to patient care areas. She said it’s a public health issue.

“The primary focus of my bill is to increase the safety of patients, and we know that vaccination will do that,” Wolk said. “This is not an unusual request. Nurses wear masks.”

Anthony Russell, a pediatrician in Sacramento, called the vaccine-or-mask policy “a critical patient safety issue” and said all health care workers, including physicians, would need to follow the new guidelines.

“The best way to prevent the spread of influenza is for health care workers to get the influenza vaccine. Outbreaks in hospitals do happen. During the asymptomatic time [when people first get the flu], you can still be very contagious. This is all about patient safety.”

SB 1318 passed the Senate Committee on Health by a 6-0 vote with 3 abstentions on Wednesday.

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