Vaccine requirement protects community

Elaine Distelrath’s letter to the editor (Herald, Aug. 28) contained several inaccuracies, and readers may benefit from additional background on this issue.

Every year, influenza kills 20,000 to 40,000 people in the United States, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized with complications of this vaccine-preventable disease.

Hospitalized patients who have serious medical problems are particularly vulnerable to influenza’s life-threatening complications.

For this reason and others, last February, the Colorado Board of Health approved a rule mandating influenza vaccination for health workers at all state-licensed hospitals, nursing homes and some other health facilities. These facilities are required to prove that at least 60 percent of their health-care workers are vaccinated for influenza in the 2012-13 flu season. That requirement increases to at least 90 percent of health-care workers in 2014-2015.

In order to comply with the new rule, Centura Health, Mercy Regional Medical Center and most other Colorado hospitals have adopted policies requiring vaccination of their employees, physicians and other providers.

Per state requirements, medical exemption to vaccination is allowed, but those exempted must wear masks while caring for patients in the hospital during flu season. Masks are an effective way of preventing transmission of the virus.

Mercy’s nurses are not required to “wear masks every minute they are on Mercy’s property,” as Distelrath claims, nor will noncompliance with the mask requirement result in “automatic dismissal.” Employees who refuse to follow our vaccination polices will be warned and may ultimately be terminated.

Physicians and other providers who refuse to follow these policies may ultimately lose their privileges to practice in the hospital.

Mandatory influenza vaccination programs are supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Joint Commission, the Colorado Hospital Association, the American Hospital Association, the Infectious Disease Society of America, Mercy’s medical executive committee and others. Why? Because vaccination of health-care workers protects patients from acquiring influenza in hospitals and saves lives.

As health-care workers, it is our ethical and professional responsibility to protect our patients, colleagues and community.

John A.K. Boyd, MD, chief medical officer, Mercy Regional Medical Center