Context: Seasonal & H1N1 Influenza

Each year, around 5-20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu, and around 36,000 individuals die. This year, with the rise of a new flu strain, H1N1, estimated impact is much higher.

Vaccination is seen as an essential primary defense, especially for at-risk populations. For both seasonal and H1N1 influenza, CDC recommends that health care workers be vaccinated, but has stopped short of promoting a mandatory approach. Most professional societies (e.g., American Medical Association, American Nursing Association) have policies urging their members to be vaccinated. However, there is limited evidence regarding the risk of transmission from health care workers to patients or from patients to health care workers.

In addition, evidence shows the match between the flu strains in the vaccine and any given season’s actual strain varies from year to year, rendering the vaccine’s protective scope unclear. Still, greater rates of vaccination may diminish the scope and depth of outbreaks by establishing “herd immunity.”

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Bioethics in Brief is a newsletter of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, committed to promoting clinical health care and health policy which is patient-centered, compassionate, and just. Opinions expressed in the newsletter are those of the authors and do not represent the position of the Center.

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