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Mask Policies Drive Higher Flu Vax Rates

News  |  By Doug Desjardins  
   October 24, 2016

Some CA hospitals expect staff vaccination rates as high as 95% for the coming flu season, well above the national average.

During the 2015–2016 flu season, the national average for healthcare personnel vaccination was 64%. However, data show rates in California were much higher.

The higher rate of vaccinations was driven in part by regional policies that require non-vaccinated healthcare workers to wear a protective mask during flu season if they opt not to be vaccinated. Thirty-one 31 counties in the state have adopted mask policies since 2011.

Data show that 82% of healthcare workers at hospitals with mask policies received flu shots last year, while 78% of hospital healthcare workers received flu vaccines in counties without mask policies.

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In Southern California, where Los Angeles County and San Diego County have mask policies in place, vaccination rates at hospitals continued to climb during the 2015–2016 flu season.

California's flu vaccination rate among healthcare workers has increased steadily since 2011 when Sacramento and Amador counties implemented the first countywide vax-or-mask polices. Since then, 29 more counties have adopted similar policies, as have local health agencies in Long Beach and Berkeley.

Overall vaccination coverage for healthcare personnel was 85% in 2014–2015, compared with 81% in 2013-2014 and 74% in 2012–2013, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Rates for healthcare workers varied by county in 2014–2015, with 12 counties reporting vaccination rates of more than 90%. Amador County reported the highest rate at 96.4% followed by Tehama (95%), Calaveras (95.5%), and Inyo (95.2%).

Counties on the lower range included Mendocino County (59.6%), Glenn (61.3%), Kern (61.8%), and Riverside County (69.8%). None of the counties in the lower range have mask policies.

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Rates also vary by individual hospitals and health systems. Sharp HealthCare in San Diego has distributed more than 10,000 doses of flu vaccine to its employees, physicians, and volunteers in the past four weeks. Sharp expects vaccination rates for the 2016–2017 flu season to be on par with last year.

"Last year, we reached a 91% vaccination rate for employees," said Erica Carlson, a spokesperson for Sharp HealthCare, which operates four acute care hospitals and three specialty hospitals in San Diego County.

"Those not vaccinated were required to wear a mask from November 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016. The same masking requirement will be in effect this year."

Scripps Health in San Diego reported a 93% vaccination rate among healthcare employees in 2015–2016. "We are on track to meet or exceed last year's rates," said Janice Collins, a spokesperson for Scripps, which operates four acute care hospitals and 19 outpatient clinics in San Diego County.

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