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January 8, 2010

W.Va. clinic to fire employees who don't receive flu vaccine

By Kathryn Gregory
Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Area Medical Center employees who do not get the seasonal flu vaccine by the end of the day Friday are going to lose their jobs.

"The vaccine is a condition of employment" and people who do not get the vaccine will be fired, CAMC spokesman Dale Witte said.

Anyone who is not vaccinated by the end of the day Friday will not be allowed to work, Witte said.

"If they are scheduled to work, they will be taken off the schedule until the [human resources] folks and others go over the list to make sure it's accurate," he said. "Then it will be termination."

A CAMC employee e-mailed the Gazette to say, "it looks like the decision to let 80 employees go because they refuse to take the vaccine is actually going to take place." The employee asked not to be identified.

Witte would not confirm the number of employees, but said it was a "handful of people," out of the more than 6,000 people who work for CAMC. He would not say which departments would be affected.

In August, CAMC required all employees to get the seasonal flu vaccine, and said those who did not by Dec. 15 would be fired.

The deadline was moved to Jan. 8 after supplies of the seasonal flu vaccine were delayed while mass shipments of the H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine were coming into the state. CAMC is not requiring employees to get the H1N1 vaccine.

Witte said the hospital is standing by its decision to let people go if they don't get the vaccine.

"We don't feel it's putting them out. It's just the best thing for patients and themselves," he said.

In years past, CAMC has encouraged people to get the flu shot, which has always been offered free to employees.

"But the quality committee wasn't satisfied with the rate of people getting the shot, and we wanted more people to get it," he said. "It's better for patients and everyone else."

Employees were allowed to skip the vaccine if they were allergic to the vaccine ingredients, or had reasons related to their family medical history or religion, Witte said. If workers said they were allergic to the vaccine, the hospital paid for them to see an allergist and confirm the allergy, he said.

There are a number of requirements for different people to work at the hospitals, Witte said, including special licenses for doctors or nurses or certain accreditation

"In the nursing and clinical field, there are other required vaccines that some people have to have," he said. "This is another one."

But the hospital may not have looked at herd immunity, which occurs when the vaccinated portion of a population can provide protection to unprotected individuals, state epidemiologist Loretta Haddy said. Essentially, the entire staff may not need to be vaccinated to ensure protection at the hospitals.

Witte said he doesn't remember herd immunity being discussed in any of the meetings he attended about the new vaccine mandates, but that doesn't mean it wasn't looked into.

Depending on the severity of the illness and human host factors, having part of the population vaccinated can slow the spread to other people, Haddy said.

"The vaccine acts as a sort of firewall in the spread of a disease," she said.

CAMC remains the only hospital in the state that has mandated the seasonal flu vaccine for employees.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright 2010 Charleston Newspapers


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