ABILENE, Texas - Almost every state in the U.S. is dealing with a flu outbreak. The government recommends vaccinations for everyone starting at six months old, but many decline the shot for reasons ranging from allergies to religion.
Should health care workers get those same exemptions?
Some hospitals said their workers should be required to get the flu vaccine in order to protect patients.
"A compromised patient is more at risk than the average person so if they're ill and they are in the hospital we need to take extra precautions to protect their safety while they're here," said Maribeth Bunn, wellness coordinator at Hendrick Medical Center.
Hendrick Medical Center and Abilene Regional Hospital have vaccination policies in place for their workers in order to keep patients safe, but neither fires employees who elect to skip it.
Abilene Regional requires flu shots for employees. Those who refuse the shot must sign a declination form. Hendrick Medical Center has a similar policy.
"Our policy this year is that an employee can choose either to decline the shot and wear a mask or receive the vaccine for free," Bunn said.
The Centers for Disease Control said most pharmacists, doctors and nurses get the flu vaccine.
A survey by the CDC in 2011 reported more than 400 U.S. hospitals require their employees to get the flu vaccine. Twenty-nine hospitals have actually fired staff that refused to get it.
This year's flu has reached epidemic levels in some states, prompting stricter requirements for health care personnel.
"Health care workers getting vaccinated could definitely save lives of patients here in the hospital," Bunn said.
Starting this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is requiring hospitals to report employees' flu vaccination rates. That data will eventually be posted on their "hospital compare" website.
Hendrick Medical Center and Abilene Regional officials said close to 100 percent of their staffs got this year's vaccine.
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