Instead of pursuing mandatory flu vaccinations for its healthcare personnel, New York State tried a different approach for the 2013-2014 flu season – and it has already proven to be successful. A new state rule, which went into effect last summer, requires all unvaccinated healthcare personnel to wear a face mask in patient care areas as long as flu is declared prevalent. There is little doubt this new requirement contributed to the 26.5% increase in flu vaccinations for New York’s healthcare personnel last flu season.
Historically, New York State’s flu vaccination rates for healthcare personnel (HCP) have been much lower than the national average. In the 2011-2012 flu season, the state of New York only reached a 48.4 percent vaccination rate for its HCP while the national average was 66.9 percent. The 2012-2013 season for New York State showed an increase to 60.5 percent while the national average climbed even higher to 72 percent. However, with the implementation of the new mask regulation, the rate of vaccinated New York healthcare personnel increased to 87 percent in the 2013-2014 season which surpassed the national average of 75.2 percent.
Combating Flu
Why is it so important for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated for the flu? The CDC ranks “Influenza and Pneumonia” as the eighth highest cause of death in the United States. However, for the 8.4 million residents of New York City, it is the third leading cause of death – preceded only by heart disease and cancer. In addition, New York State is third in the nation in the number of deaths from flu. Since healthcare personnel are at increased risk of both transmitting and acquiring flu because of their contact with ill patients, regulatory agencies such as the CDC strongly recommend all HCP be vaccinated.
The CDC states “coverage is highest among healthcare personnel working in settings with flu vaccination requirements (97.8%),“ and many facilities across the country have made flu vaccinations a condition of employment. However, when New York State attempted to increase their flu vaccination rate for healthcare personnel by mandate in 2009, the efforts were met with strong opposition from unions. As a result of the court battle, combined with an ill-timed vaccine shortage, the state reversed its direction.
Focusing on Unvaccinated HCP
Trying a different approach, the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council changed their focus to unvaccinated individuals. They enacted a new rule which went into effect July 31, 2013. The rule requires “personnel who are not vaccinated against influenza (to) wear a surgical or procedure mask while working in areas where patients, residents or clients may be present….” The rule is enforced during the time the Commissioner of the state Department of Health declares influenza to be prevalent in the State of New York.
As it turned out, unvaccinated healthcare personnel were required to wear a mask for 168 days of the 2013-2014 flu season. After two consecutive waves of flu activity, once of which was unusually late in the season, the Health Commissioner determined that flu was widespread in New York State from December 19, 2013 to June 5, 2014.
Healthcare facilities are required to supply the masks and are obligated to “ensure” that all personnel follow the rule. Facilities must develop policies and procedures for implementation as well as a report on the influenza vaccination status of personnel upon request.
Wearing the Mask
The new mask regulation is designed to protect both patients and staff while encouraging healthcare personnel to get vaccinated. According to the New York State Department of Health, there are no known contraindications to wearing a surgical mask for any length of time. In fact, the practice of unvaccinated individuals wearing a mask has been endorsed by the American Hospital Association (AHA) since 2011. Following the lead of the AHA, we added the work “MASK” to all the ReptraxTM badges of unvaccinated commercial visitors, so facilities can quickly tell when a mask is required. We also created an independent tracking and reporting tool designed specifically to increase participation. In addition, IntelliCentrics SEC3URETM enables your facility to easily track the flu vaccination rates of all HCP. We are your partners in creating a safe and secure environment for your patients.


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