It’s that time of year again: flu shot season. As the temperature drops and fall sets in, the public will be bombarded with messages from healthcare providers urging them to get for their annual flu shot. Many providers, however, don’t follow their own advice. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 40% of health care professionals will get their annual flu shot.
For healthy individuals, the CDC recommends that all healthcare personnel, medical students, and other high-risk groups (such as employees of assisted living communities) be vaccinated against the influenza virus. Being too busy, dislike of needles, or a history of good health can justify declining a flu shot, and many healthcare workers believe they are at lower risk due to frequent handwashing and wearing gloves. However, even with these precautions, working in the healthcare industry means that you are exposed to the virus at a considerably higher rate than other professions.
According to Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, Tenn., “Both the professional and ethical responsibility of all health care workers is to be vaccinated annually against influenza.”
With one in five Americans getting the flu every year, it is critical that there are healthy doctors ready to take care of these patients. On average, 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 die each year from the influenza virus. Vaccinations can protect both patients and healthcare providers from becoming infected with influenza and transmitting the contagious virus to others. According to Dr. David Hooper, Chief of Infection Control Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, “A health care worker could be incubating influenza and transmitting to any number of people.” As a locum tenens provider, a new assignment means a new hospital and new patients. It also means new opportunities to be exposed to the influenza virus, or even worse, transmitting it to a patient.