More area health care workers are being required to get flu shots.
Hospitals in the Methodist Health System and Alegent Health hospitals and clinics have joined Creighton University Medical Center and other area health care providers in requiring employees to get vaccinated against influenza. The shots are free to the employees.
"Our immunization rates just weren't high enough to protect patients," said Dr. Rick Miller, Alegent's chief quality officer.
"The virus can only spread within a population if there are enough people who are susceptible," Miller said. "If almost everybody is immune, it just can't go from person to person to person."
The announcement about the Methodist system's policy went out to employees Wednesday, said Dr. Robert Penn, who directs Methodist Hospital's epidemiology department. If employees can't get the shot for medical or religious reasons, he said, they will be asked to wear disposable masks that cover their noses and mouths during the flu season.
The same goes for employees at Alegent hospitals, Miller said.
"We think it's reasonable considering where they work and who they're around," he said.
Creighton University Medical Center implemented the requirement last year. "Unvaccinated or unmasked health care personnel can transmit the flu virus to patients," said spokeswoman Kelsey Archer. The hospital saw a decrease in influenza among both employees and patients last flu season, she said.
The Nebraska Medical Center strongly encourages employees to get flu shots but doesn't require it, said spokesman Paul Baltes. The hospital's compliance rates are above 90 percent, he said, so instituting a requirement hasn't yet been deemed necessary.
Dr. Linda Ford said she requires workers at her Asthma & Allergy Center in Bellevue to have flu shots. "People think it's 'just the flu,'" Ford said. "They get it confused with the stomach flu. Well, what we're talking about here is influenza, which is a respiratory illness. It's a major illness, and it kills people."