JFK management has put out a new policy requiring that all employees either be inoculated against the flu virus or wear a surgical mask in all areas of the hospital except the main lobby or cafeteria. Our Union believes this is a change in working conditions which would require management to negotiate terms with our Union. Our Union has filed a grievance on the new policy and management’s refusal to negotiate terms. Until we know the outcome of our grievance, the policy goes into effect Nov. 8.
Flu Vaccine Requirements
All JFK healthcare personnel are required to participate in vaccination and/or skin testing for Hepatitis B, influenza (flu), measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis, varicella (chicken pox) and tuberculosis.
Unless medically exempted, all JFK healthcare personnel are required to receive or provide documentation of having received the vaccination/testing or to comply with the procedures set forth as an alternative to vaccination.
According to the policy, the flu vaccine is available to all staff and licensed independent practitioners, as well as educational material regarding the flu vaccine, non-vaccine control and prevention measures, and the diagnosis, transmission and impact of the flu.
Employees who receive a vaccine or provide documentation of having received the vaccine elsewhere, will receive a plain identifying sticker to affix to their employee badge.
Lack of Evidence to Recommend Surgical Masks
SEIU strongly supports flu vaccination of healthcare workers. Comprehensive education about the importance of flu vaccination works increases rates of vaccination. Such programs have proven to be highly effective in achieving flu vaccination rates in excess of 90 percent (1). Alternatively, SEIU does not support the wearing of surgical masks by healthcare workers for the following reasons:
1. Mask wearing is punitive. Supporters of this practice readily admit that this negative approach is being used as a modern day “Scarlett Letter” to label, coerce and intimidate workers into getting vaccinated against their will.
2. No scientific evidence to support mask use. CDC does not recommend the use of surgical masks for this purpose because there is no scientific evidence to support their use.
3. If masks truly are more than a gimmick, why shouldn’t ALL healthcare workers wear them? As the flu vaccine is only effective in six of 10 healthy working-age adults in a given flu season (2), why logically shouldn’t vaccinated healthcare workers wear masks too?
4. Mask wearing likely increases spread of respiratory infections. Research has shown that the more frequent hand to mouth / nose / eyes contact necessitated when workers don, duff and adjust their surgical mask can lead to more contamination / infection, not less. (3)
5. Mask wearing could compromise patient care. Surgical mask wearing reduces the ability for healthcare workers to be able to communicate – especially with older patients and others with hearing disabilities that rely on facial expressions and lip reading. Other patients may find mask wearing discomforting and lead them to fear that they have an unknown illness.
6. Mask wearing discriminates by broadcasting a patient’s (healthcare workers) health status. Requiring unvaccinated workers to wear a mask could rightly be considered a potential HIPAA violation that stigmatizes these workers and “broadcasts” their health status to others.
7. Mask wearing confuses OSHA and CDC messaging. CDC recommends that patients with flu like symptoms wear surgical masks; workers caring for such patients should wear fitted N95 respirators as surgical masks do not provide adequate protection to workers from the airborne spread of the flu virus.
8. Mask wearing undermines the public’s trust. Punitive public health policies not supported by a sound evidentiary base threaten to erode overall support for flu and other vaccinations. (4)
1. Immunizing Healthcare Workers Against Influenza: Best Practices Report, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases http://www.nfid.org/Doc/hcwtoolkit/bestpracticestoolkitdocument.pdf 2. Osterholm, MT, et al. Efficacy and effectiveness of the influenza vaccines: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis. 2012;12(1):36-44 3. Cassanova, et al. CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2008. Volume 14, No. 8 4. Sandman, P et al. Overselling flu vaccine effectiveness risks undermining public health credibility. November 2011. http://www.psandman.com/col/fluvax-effetiveness.htm