Swine flu shots up for discussion

Usually about half of California’s health care workers roll up their sleeves for a seasonal flu vaccination, but this year health officials say they want all of them to get immunized for H1N1 flu — which spread rapidly around the world earlier this year and has sickened thousands and killed 167 people statewide since April.

Unlike a recent and controversial mandate in New York state that requires all hospital workers to get the vaccine, California has not made health care worker swine flu vaccinations mandatory.

Yet nurses, emergency responders and other health care workers in The City who do not get swine flu shots might not be able to work with pregnant women or babies — who are among the most vulnerable patients — said Eileen Shields, spokeswoman for San Francisco Department of Public Health.

“Anyone who comes in direct contact with those people, if they don’t get the shot, will probably get reassigned,” Shields said.

Most health care workers will get the vaccination because it’s free for them and helps prevent the pandemic from spreading, she said.

However, health care workers at the four California Pacific Medical Center campuses in The City are divided when it comes to even just the regular flu shot.

CPMC spokeswoman Karen Anderson said about half the institution’s workers don’t get seasonal flu shots. Some are afraid of needles, while others say the shots are unnecessary or make them sick.

Those debates could re-emerge when the H1N1 vaccinations are offered in October, Anderson said. The number of patients tested for swine flu at CPMC hospitals was down to about 60 people a week in July, she said, and in the past couple weeks hospital staff has tested about 100 people per week.

“The numbers are inching up,” Anderson said. “I think it makes sense for people who take care of sick people to be immunized.”

The California Nurses Association also wants all nurses to get the vaccine, but does not want to force it on anyone, CNA board member David Welch said.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

 

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