Healthcare Worker Vaccination is Important for Respiratory Virus SeasonPosted on by
Respiratory virus season is here. As a healthcare worker, you play a critical role in slowing and preventing the spread of viral respiratory infections, including flu and COVID-19. Like hand hygiene, personal protective equipment (PPE), and environmental cleaning and disinfection, vaccination is a critical tool in our infection control toolbox. Getting recommended vaccines in combination with implementation of these infection control best practices can help protect you and others in your healthcare facility.
New CDC reports show that healthcare workers were less likely to get a flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic than before the pandemic and were not up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines during the 2022-23 respiratory virus season. Now is the perfect time to remind yourself and your coworkers about the importance of vaccinations.
You can learn more about the vital role vaccines play in protecting you and your patients and residents in this blog from Janet Glowicz, PhD, RN, a nurse infection preventionist with CDC’s Project Firstline.
Vaccination plays an important role in infection control
Getting your recommended vaccines protects you and the people you care for whether you are at work or at home. How? Vaccines can help reduce your risk of getting sick and help stop the spread of viruses to others, including vulnerable patients. If you do get flu or COVID-19, vaccines can make the illness shorter and less severe, reduce the amount of time you may need to be away from work to recover, and help you avoid hospitalization.
All healthcare workers should get the recommended vaccines for respiratory viruses
COVID-19 and flu vaccines are recommended for healthcare workers because of the potential for workplace exposure and because of the vulnerability of the patients and residents they care for.
For more information on vaccine recommendations, visit:
Options are available for free and low-cost access to vaccinations
Most people can still get the COVID-19 vaccine for free. If you have health insurance, most plans will cover the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost to you. Check with your insurance provider on what they cover. If you don’t have health insurance or have a health plan that doesn’t cover the full cost, you can still get a free vaccine through CDC’s Bridge Access Program.
If you don’t have health insurance, you can find free COVID-19 vaccines at Bridge Access Program sites, including locations such as CVS and Walgreens pharmacies (check vaccines.gov to find one near you), pharmacies participating under eTrueNorth, participating local health centers, and other participating local healthcare providers.
If your health insurance doesn’t cover the full cost, you can find free COVID-19 vaccines at participating Bridge Access Program sites which are in network with your insurance. Co-pays may not be waived at Bridge sites which are NOT in network. It is important to understand where you are in network for vaccination and seek vaccination at those locations.
Certain groups are at high risk for severe complications from respiratory infections
Individuals aged 65 and above are at the highest risk of being hospitalized and experiencing severe illness from the flu and COVID-19. They make up the most COVID-19 and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths annually in the United States. Further, many underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes, and obesity may place people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease. Your healthcare provider can help you be aware of your risk for severe complications and encourage the recommended vaccinations.
Though not specifically recommended for healthcare workers, the RSV vaccine can also be considered for those who are at higher risk for severe illness and hospitalization from RSV. If you are above age 60 or are currently pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider to determine if the RSV vaccine is right for you.
As a healthcare worker, it’s also important to understand the risk of these illnesses to your patients and residents and take action. Even if you are not personally at high risk for severe illness, by getting vaccinated, you can help keep yourself from getting sick and spreading germs to those in your care.
Proactive measures can help healthcare workers stay up to date with recommended vaccines
Your facility’s Occupational Health Department can help you remain aware of all currently required or recommended vaccines in accordance with state or territorial laws. CDC recommends confirming vaccine requirements with your employer. You can also check with vaccine providers if you’d like additional information, such as your healthcare provider and local pharmacies. For updates, visit the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Vaccine Recommendations website.
Healthcare leaders play a key role in educating and reassuring staff about vaccine safety and effectiveness
- Hundreds of millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring efforts in U.S. history.
- CDC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal agencies closely monitor the safety of all vaccines licensed and recommended for use in the United States.
- ACIP carefully considers the benefits and risks of vaccines as part of their evidence-based process for recommending them for use. Additionally, CDC has multiple systems that track vaccine safety after administration.
Employer-sponsored vaccination programs are an effective way to help your staff receive recommended vaccines during respiratory virus season. Offering recommended vaccines is beneficial to everyone in your facility and can make the process more convenient and cost-effective by removing common barriers to access. For those who work in long-term care (LTC) settings, the National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit (NAIIS) has provided specific guidance for LTC administrators who plan to increase influenza vaccination through a workplace requirement.
Healthcare workers should stay informed about local respiratory virus activity
During respiratory virus season, it’s important to stay informed about the spread of viruses in your area. Keep an eye out for updates from your facility or local health department. The following CDC resources are available to help access data for your area:
- County COVID-19 hospital admission rates can be accessed using CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker.
- Outpatient and hospital admissions for influenza and respiratory illnesses can be found at CDC’s FluView.
- National trends in RSV and other respiratory viruses can be found on CDC websites for the National Center for Infectious Respiratory Disease Surveillance System and the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System.
To learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and your patients this season, check out Project Firstline’s Infection Control Actions for Respiratory Viruses.
Janet Glowicz, PhD, RN, Infection Preventionist with Project Firstline in CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion