Half of hospital workers didn’t get flu shots, Consumers Union finds

Note: This story was updated at 4:22 pm Sept. 2 to reflect a response from the California Department of Public Health.

Almost half of California hospital workers did not get a flu shot during the 2008-09 flu season, according to records obtained by Consumers Union from the state Department of Public Health.

The US Centers for Disease Control has recommended flu shots for all hospital workers since 1993. In 2006 the California Legislature passed a law requiring hospitals to make the shots available to their staff. Beginning in 2008, hospitals were required to report how many of their workers got a vaccination and how many declined, and the Department of Public Health was supposed to begin reporting those numbers to the public this year.

The information was never released. But Consumers Union requested the raw data via a public records request and reported its findings Thursday. The Department of Public Health disputes the group’s findings but did not release its own numbers Thursday.

According to Consumers Union, only 299 hospitals, or 69 percent of the covered hospitals in the state, reported their vaccination numbers to the state. Some of that data, the department told Consumers Union, might have been lost by the state. Of 246 records provided by the department, Consumers Union reported that:

* The average vaccination rate reported by hospitals was 52.4 percent.
* 3.3 percent of hospitals had vaccination rates of less than 25 percent.
* Two-thirds of hospitals had vaccination rates of less than 60 percent, the 2010 target set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
* One third of hospitals had vaccination rates greater than 60 percent.
* Only 1.6 percent of hospitals had vaccination rates greater than 80 percent, the rate suggested by some experts as necessary to prevent in-hospital transmission.

“Hospitals aren’t doing enough to protect patients from developing infections that can make them sicker during treatment,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. “While some hospitals have aggressive vaccination programs, most do not. A fifty-two percent vaccination rate is unacceptable. Reporting this information to the public will motivate hospitals to work harder to protect patients by boosting vaccination rates among healthcare workers.”

Kathleen Billingsley, deputy director of the department’s Center for Healthcare Quality, said the Consumers Union report was “inaccurate” and based on incomplete information.

“CDPH is committed to providing the public with accurate and complete influenza vaccination information,” Billingsley said in a statement released by the department. “We expect the 2008-2009 employee influenza vaccination data report to be available by the end of this month. The 2009-2010 employee influenza vaccination data will be released by the end of this year.”

To see the full Consumers Union report, go here.

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