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Essentia requires flu shots for all employees, volunteers

close-up of an array of upright syringes

FARGO—Essentia Health has adopted a new policy requiring its employees to be vaccinated against influenza to protect patients and to help curb the spread of the contagious disease.

The updated policy requires all physicians, employees, volunteers, students and vendors to get a flu shot.

"Influenza has the highest rates of complications and hospitalization for people age 65 and older, young children and those with other medical conditions," Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Essentia's infectious disease and chief quality and safety officer, said in a statement.

Each year, on average, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to the flu each year, he said.

"Essentia cares for these most vulnerable members of our community on a daily basis," Prabhu said.

So far, more than 80 percent of Essentia's doctors, employees, vendors and others have received flu shots, and about 65 employees have been approved for a medical or religious exemption, according to figures released by Essentia.

Although exemptions can be granted, failure to comply with the policy could result in an employee's firing,

"Compliance with this policy will be a condition of employment and the ability to provide services at Essentia Health," Prabhu said in his statement. "Any individual covered by the required flu vaccination policy who fails to comply with its provisions will be prohibited from working or providing services within Essentia Health and may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination."

Sanford Health adopted a similar flu shot policy in 2013, and also allows exemptions for medical or religious reasons, and has a compliance rate of almost 99 percent, according to Susan Jarvis, Sanford's vice president of operations in Fargo.

"All staff are required to receive an annual influenza vaccination to protect patients and staff against influenza, a serious, and in some cases, deadly illness," Jarvis said in a statement.