With the flu hitting harder and sooner than usual this season, hospitals are now cracking down on workers refusing to take their flu shots. In fact, some workers have lost their jobs over their refusal.
In other states, at least 15 nurses and hospital employees have been fired for refusing to get a flu shot in the past two months. Several others have resigned, according to affected workers, hospital authorities and published reports.
Lubbock hospitals are also implemented stricter rules against workers who opt out of their flu shots.
For the first time ever University Medical Center is making it mandatory for all of their workers to get a flu shot or wear a mask.
"What UMC did this year is we said it's mandatory for all employees to get the flu shot. We offer that shot free of charge. We've always offered it to our employees free of charge but this year we said it's mandatory that you get it," said Eric Finley, Marketing Director at UMC.
Finley says for those employees who opt out of getting the shot they are required to wear a mask the entire time they're at work during certain peak times of the year. He says we are in one of those peak times right now.
"You're going to have to wear that mask while you're at work and that might be a little uncomfortable for some people and maybe that did incentivize some folks to get it but we did want some level of protection. That was the main goal," he said.
Covenant Health Systems in Lubbock strongly encourage their employees to get a flu shot, said Whitney Bryant, Media Relations Coordinator.
"If they do get a flu shot, they get an orange tag with their name tag so everybody, patients, other employees will know they got the flu shot," Bryant said.
She says it is not mandatory for their employees, but they choose not to, they have to wear protective gear around patients.
"If they didn't, they have to sign that declination and then during flu season they have to wear a mask within six feet of the patient," she said.
So why would people whose job is to protect sick patients refuse a flu shot? The reasons vary: allergies to flu vaccine, which are rare, religious objections and skepticism about whether vaccinating health workers will prevent flu in patients.
Beckie Brawley, Public Health Coordinator for Lubbock Health Department, said during the last week of December, they received almost 400 reports of influenza-like illnesses. She said during the first week of January, they had over 1,000 reports on flu-like illnesses.
Finley says out of the 3,000 workers at UMC, only 51 have not gotten their shots. That is 98.5 percent. Hopefully, this will cut down on the spread of the flu virus in Lubbock.
AP contributed to this story.
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