Flu Vaccine Bill Approved by Senate

There’s more than one kind of resistance to the flu virus.

Senate member Lois Wolk (D-Davis) found that out, and Wednesday introduced to the Senate floor a substantially reworked version of her bill, SB 1318, which would require health care facilities to meet a 90% flu vaccine health-worker compliance rate by 2015.

The bill passed on a 23-9 vote. However, that vote came at a price.

“We compromised dearly here,” Wolk said. “We agreed to delay the implementation for two years. We think that’s reasonable.”

The big change, though, was more specific: The “M” word was taken out of bill language.

“Please note that nowhere in this bill is the word ‘mask’ used,” Wolk said. “Many of you are uncomfortable with the word ‘mask.’ … It makes you uncomfortable.”

Wolk hit a firestorm of opposition over the requirement in the original bill that health care workers who refused to get the influenza vaccine would need to wear a paper mask in patient areas during flu season. Opponents felt that unfairly marked people who declined to get the vaccine as problem workers, and could undermine their relationship with patients and coworkers.

To Wolk, the issue is protecting patient health — whether that’s through getting the flu vaccine or through wearing a mask around patients who may be vulnerable to the virus.

“Influenza is the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States,” Wolk said. “Deaths occur among the most vulnerable, who are at risk for complications from the flu.” That includes infants, seniors and those with compromised immune systems, such as patients with AIDS, or those who are undergoing chemotherapy, she said.

“California’s compliance rate remains one of the worst in the nation,” Wolk said. “Only 64% of health care workers [in California] get vaccinated, as opposed to the 90% that the CDC has established as a goal, and that many states have achieved.”

The two-year delay in requiring the 90% compliance rate gives health care facilities and worker groups time to try alternate methods to reach that higher compliance rate, Wolk said.

“We have a fundamental disagreement with our opponents,” Wolk said. “Is requiring a flu vaccination a bargainable issue? I do not believe you can collectively bargain a public health requirement in a health care setting, when the consequences are illness or death. Here’s our opportunity to do something positive, that will prevent sickness and death. And in doing that, we will protect the herd, the society at large.”

SB 1318 now heads to the Assembly.

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