Mandatory flu shot policies may be based on flawed research, study suggests

While the CDC urges everyone to get a flu shot, some hospitals take it a step further and mandate employees to get a flu shot or face possible termination. These mandatory flu shot policies are rooted in the belief the shot protects both workers and patients from the virus. However, a study published in PLOS says the policies may be built on faulty research.

"The impression that unvaccinated [healthcare workers] place their patients at great influenza peril is exaggerated," according to the study.

Researchers looked into four cluster randomized controlled trials conducted in long-term care facilities that showed reductions in patient flu risk when more healthcare workers were vaccinated against the flu.

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They found the trials overestimated the effect healthcare worker vaccination would have on patient flu deaths. For instance, one of the trails concluded one influenza death would be averted for every eight staff members vaccinated. But if that were true, vaccinating the nation's 5.5 million healthcare workers would avert 687,500 flu deaths annually — when in reality flu causes only 3,000 to 49,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, STAT reported.

"I think the bottom line of our paper is to say there is no valid scientific evidence, even now, underpinning enforced healthcare worker immunizations," Dr. Gaston De Serres, the lead study author, told STAT.

The leader of one of the trials examined in this study issued a response in PLOS, stating in part, "While we claimed that the findings may be generalizable to other settings we did not intend to imply that the extent of the benefit would be similar in other settings. Indeed we think the effect is likely to be substantially greater in long-term care facilities for frail elderly residents than in the acute care setting or in long-term care facilities catering for less frail patients."

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