Health care workers in Indiana and Tennessee were the first Monday to get the nasal swine vaccine which is a mist, administered through the nose. It is mandatory for health workers in some states to get the vaccination, but it is not mandatory in California.
Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, like other Bay Area hospitals, is still waiting for their alottment to come from the county. Despite repated CDC assurances that the H1N1 vaccine is absolutely safe, effective and made basically the same as the traditional flu vaccine, many health workers will still likely take a pass.
Marth Kuhl says, "There are reasons why a nurse may choose not to get it."
Kuhl is a cancer nurse at Children's Hospital Oakland. She plans to get the H1N1 vaccine but knows several of her co-workers will not. She say they are concerned about this particular vaccine "because it was rushed to market and so there are concerns about safety and efficacy."
According to a recent study by the Rand Corporation, only 53 percent of health workers typically get the seasonal flu shot, only slightly better than the general population. As for the new H1N1 vaccine, in the Bay Area most hospitals will follow the policy adopted by the California Nurses Association.
"We are strongly recommending that our membership get the vaccine because nurses are at the heart of the health care system and part of the infrastructure," Jan Rodolfo says. "It's really important that nurses are able to be well and at the bedside as opposed to sick with the flu."
One hospital chain plans to have a roving cart to administer the H1N1 vaccine to workers. But, if they refuse to take it, the hospitals will take no action beyond asking a worker who feels ill to stay home. Kuhl says some nurses are concerned knowing that other nurses will choose not to get the vaccine.
Beyond the vaccine, some nurses believe hospitals still are not doing enough to protect workers from exposure to H1N1.
"We believe there are still hospitals that are doing a poor job identifying and isolating patients with flu-like symptoms," Rodolfo told ABC7.
In July, a Carmichael nurse became the first California health worker to die after getting the H1N1 virus. In August, nurses held a rally in San Francisco to highlight their concerns. On Monday, Alta Bates Summit issued a statement about their preparations going into flu season saying, "Alta Bates Summit is working proactively to protect our staff, our patients and our community."
They have posted signs in four different languages prominently at hospital entrances instructing people to cover their mouths inside the hospital if they have a cough. Beyond that, anyone who needs to enter the hospital who might have a cough of sniffle, will be issued a face mask.