Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Health care workers have ethical responsibility to protect their patients from preventable infectious diseases

By Tomás Aragón

California Senate Bill 1318 (Lois Wolk) will require health care workers that do not get vaccinated against influenza to wear a face mask during influenza season. Here is my letter that was read to the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on 4/26/2012 by the Health Officers' Association of California (HOAC):

Members of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee,

As a health officer, I feel a special responsibility to do what is reasonable to protect vulnerable patients from avoidable risks. That is why San Francisco requires a flu vaccine for all health care workers. The bill before your committee, SB 1318, will enact a similar statewide requirement.

In San Francisco, this is our 3rd year of mandating flu vaccines for health care workers, and our second year of requiring a facial mask for those that decline the vaccine.  Our focus is on hospitals and long-term care facilities.  We enacted this policy through our citywide infection control committee, which includes subject matter experts and stakeholders from a variety of sectors. This committee worked hard to ensure a fair and effective policy.

The primary reason for this policy is to protect patients.  This policy is not designed to be punitive, it is designed to protect our most ill from catching a potentially harmful respiratory virus. A masking policy is the least restrictive option for unvaccinated HCWs; it allows highly trained professionals to continue to provide valuable care without interruption. San Francisco considers a masking policy to be an effective way to balance the rights of patients with the rights of hospital workers.

After enacting a vaccination or masking policy in San Francisco, we have had overwhelming support from all our hospitals and infectious disease specialists.

I hope that the members of this committee will approve SB 1318 in order to protect our most vulnerable.


Tomás Aragón, MD, DrPH

Health Officer City and County of San Francisco

Faculty, UC Berkeley School of Public Health