The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) is urging health care institutions to require annual flu vaccines for all employees with direct patient contact. According to an announcement from the APIC, the recommendation comes in response to reports that the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus could infect half of the United States population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that only about 40% of health care personnel receive flu shots annually, according to the APIC announcement.

"Immunization will be especially critical for health care personnel during the 2009-2010 flu season because we will have more than one virus circulating," said APIC president Christine J. Nutty, RN, MSN, CIC. "All health care workers, including those who are pregnant, need to be immunized against seasonal influenza and 2009 H1N1 virus when vaccines become available. This is vitally important to healthcare worker and patient safety."

Other recommendations from the APIC include:

– Health care facilities should obtain informed statements acknowledging the risk to patients from employees who decline the vaccine for reasons other than medical.
– Health care facilities should implement a comprehensive strategy incorporating all of the guidelines for influenza vaccination of health care personnel from the CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

"Employees who are not vaccinated can transmit both seasonal flu and H1N1 virus to vulnerable patients in health care institutions," said Nutty. "Current rates of health care worker immunizations are appallingly low and must not be tolerated. It’s time for hospitals to require flu shots, and hold employees accountable for declining the vaccine."

APIC recommendations for influenza immunization apply to health care personnel in acute care hospitals, nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, physician’s offices, urgent care centers, outpatient settings, and home health settings.