Essential Health lays off 50 employees for failure to get a flu vaccine

Duluth, Minnesota-based health care company, Essentia Health has laid off nearly 50 employees for failing to get a flu vaccine. The company announced last month that employees would be required to get a flu shot, or receive a religious or medical exemption. The deadline for compliance was set for Monday.

The company said in a statement that over 99 per cent of Essentia's 13,900 employees had either taken the shot, received an exemption or are in the exemption process.

According to the company, it is mandating the shot to minimise the risk of patients contracting the flu while under its care.

The United Steelworkers filed an injunction to try to delay the policy from taking effect, which was rejected by a federal judge.

According to commentators, it comes as a growing trend for hospitals to require flu shots for workers. Public health professionals do not find the development surprising.

''It's a patient safety issue,'' said Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, www.nbcnews.com reported. ''It's so that we do not give flu to our patients.''

Some of the most vulnerable people, frail elderly, babies in incubators, patients with weakened immune systems and others may get the flu virus from hospital workers and vaccination of employees protects patients and the employees' co-workers.

''Patients are in the hospital because they are sick,'' said Dr Rajesh Prabhu, Infectious Disease and Chief Patient Quality and Safety Officer at Essentia Health. "That puts them at risk of a more severe outcome from influenza. People can die from influenza.''

The influenza virus kills between 3,000 and 50,000 US citizens each year, including children who were healthy before they caught the virus.

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone from the age of 6 months by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only people who have a medical reason not to for instance, an allergy to the vaccine are exempted.