(Welcome to guest blogger Dr. Mary Beth Koslap-Petraco. She is a nurse practitioner in New York and a frequent guest speaker around the country on the topic of vaccines.)
Nursing organizations are opposed to mandatory immunization for nurses. I wonder why? We mandate vaccines for children to attend school to protect not only the children who are immunized, but those children who cannot be immunized for medical reasons.
We nurses have a moral responsibility to protect our patients and our families, as well as ourselves. There would be much less chatter about mandatory vaccination for health care workers (i.e. nurses) if nurses ALL stepped up to the plate and were vaccinated themselves.
All of the arguments to encourage nurses to be immunized against not just influenza but pertussis (whooping cough) have fallen on deaf ears in one community hospital. Seems the nurses see no need to be immunized themselves. These same nurses do not have a very good track record for encouraging new mothers to be immunized against pertussis before discharge.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all new mothers be immunized against pertussis with a Tdap shot before they are discharged, if they have not been immunized during pregnancy.
Some of the mothers who delivered at this hospital said they either did not remember being asked if they wanted a Tdap shot, or it was presented to them with little or no explanation, which made them refuse the vaccine.
And I know of another community hospital which has a policy to offer Tdap to its postpartum moms but does not seem to be following its own recommendation. Two moms on two different occasions were asked if they were offered Tdap before they went home with their babies. The answer from the moms was that the vaccine was never offered.
Meanwhile, the discharge paperwork from the hospital noted the moms ‘refused’ the vaccine, and a nurse had signed both notes. Seems it was the same nurse who had treated both of these moms. Was this nurse too busy to take a few minutes to explain the need for the vaccine to these moms, or was the nurse not ‘a nurse who vaccinates?’
If this occurred with these two moms, you can be sure it happened with other moms. Moms went home with their newborn babies without the protection they need to prevent their babies from contracting pertussis. Their babies were too young to be immunized themselves.
Recently, an incident occurred at one of these community hospitals that houses a very large mother/baby unit. There can be extremely serious consequences when nurses do not accept vaccination for themselves. A nurse working on a mother/baby unit in the hospital developed pertussis. Thankfully, no infants were infected, nor were any moms or other staff members. I think this hospital was VERY lucky. One would think that following such a scare the hospital would become pro-active about getting their staff immunized against pertussis, but it didn’t happen.
Educational programs have been aimed at this hospital, but there is still no organized program to get the nursing staff immunized. But, there is hope! At least one of the nurses is actively encouraging her colleagues to be immunized. Kudos to this nurse ‘who vaccinates!’ The nurses need to be advocates for the vaccine for themselves . . . because it is the right thing to do.
There are lessons to be learned here. Will nurses heed these lessons?