by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

A Catholic hospital system in Arkansas seems to have come up with an innovative solution to encouraging health care workers be vaccinated while allowing them the autonomy to make their own decision. When we last brought up this question one of our commenters said he’d like to see a button on health care workers that said, “I’m not vaccinated.” St. Vincent hospital system seems to have figured out a way to do this while still protecting both the worker and the patient. The idea is surprisingly simple:

Given the choice between face masks or the seasonal flu vaccine, nearly all 3,200 employees opted for the needle at St. Vincent Health System — the first hospital in the state known to have required staff to make such a choice.Only six staffers opted for the mask, said Jon Timmis, the chief strategy officer at St. Vincent, where officials anticipate this year’s flu season will hit harder — and sooner — than usual.

“Based on those two factors — both coming early and the suspicion that it was going to be a heavier flu season based on patients already coming through our emergency department — we felt that we as a hospital, one, have a responsibility to be on the leading edge of public health,” Timmis said. “But two, (we) need to protect our work force so that if the flu season is as bad as some have anticipated that we have a work force here to take care of patients.”(Jill Zeman Bleed, AP

Well, he might have added, “Three, we have an ethical responsibility to protect our patients who are on average at higher risk of death and disability if they have the flu,” but this is a pretty innovative plan. It’s the button that says, “I’m not vaccinated” while providing some (possibly minimal) protection for the worker and some (probably a bit more) protection for the patient. And a mask — especially an N95 — are not comfortable to work in for long periods and many settings. Vaccination starts to look better.

Experience is showing that mandatory vaccination for anyone but children, who can’t make their own decisions, has its own adverse effects. Requiring employees to wear a mask is not different than requiring them to wear gloves or a scrub suit. But it allows someone to decline a vaccination, for whatever reason. And it tells the rest of us whom we are dealing with.