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For safety and precautionary reasons, require H1N1 vaccinations

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 28, 2009 7:20 AM

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The novel H1N1 virus started flu season with infections reported throughout the country. Iowa City is not immune to this threat; UI officials recently said the virus had potentially infected as many as 200 people on campus. The virus’ novel nature allows it to hit younger people especially hard. Most H1N1 fatalities are small children and young adults — an age group with a strong concentration in Iowa City. Because Iowa City has a large population susceptible to H1N1, the UI Hospitals and Clinics should reinstate its mandatory vaccination program for staff members.

UIHC required all staff to receive the vaccine until the Service Employees International Union Local 199 — the group representing nurses and other hospital staff — filed for an injunction against the UIHC on Sept. 8. Both the UIHC and SEIU Local 199 have agreed to third-party arbitration, and the hospital has agreed to suspend mandatory vaccination, pending arbitration.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the UIHC’s Sept. 23 decision to halt the program was out of concern for union members’ objections and that the hospital still supports mandatory vaccination for all staff —excluding those alleregic to the vaccine or staff members with religious objections.

SEIU Local 199 President and registered nurse Cathy Glasson disagrees with UIHC’s position, arguing for a voluntary vaccination program and better education for staff members. She said she’s not opposed to the vaccine and thinks vaccination could significantly reduce infection and mortality rates in the hospital. Glasson, however, said vaccination alone is inadequate in preventing the spread of influenza. She argued that the hospital’s stance focuses too much on vaccination and not enough on other preventative measures, such as fitting staff for N-95 masks. Mandatory vaccinations could also drive qualified staff members away if they refused, Glasson contended.

Moore stood by the UIHC’s stance, citing studies and an article two UI faculty members wrote in the British Medical Journal supporting mandatory vaccination.

The UIHC’s principal motivation in mandating vaccination is the current vaccination rate, which Moore said stands at 84 percent. The British Medical Journal article said health-care facilities that required staff to receive vaccines reached a rate of 98 percent. Moore said he’d like to see the UIHC reach that level as well.

The H1N1 vaccine should be mandatory for all staff — not just for their benefit, but for everyone’s. H1N1 has yet to be the prolific killer seasonal influenza has been in the past, but it has been more dangerous than regular flu so far. The Centers for Disease Control attributed all 122 flu-related deaths in America this past summer to H1N1 and said on its website the new virus could be as prevalent as seasonal influenza this flu season.

Hospital workers and other health-care providers are on the frontlines in the fight against the flu. This makes them more susceptible to contract and spread the virus — the consequences of which could be fatal. The CDC reports fatalities among children aged between 1 and 10 increase dramatically if the children are already weakened with another illness. Hospital workers who aren’t vaccinated pose potential hazards to children seeking treatment for other illnesses. While Glasson’s concerns should be taken into account — and the union’s emphasis on education is important as well — UIHC officials should require vaccination for hospital workers.

Even if the vaccine doesn’t provide total immunity, it’s still better than having none at all. Because of H1N1’s prevalence and its exotic nature, the UIHC should reinstate the mandatory vaccine program as a precaution.


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