By Nannette Miranda
SACRAMENTO, CA - Only 63 percent of healthcare workers nationwide get a flu vaccine.
"We're surprised. We thought there'd better participation level because they're in the industry," said Don Quinn who gets flu shots. "They know the benefit of the flu shot."
More than 35,000 people across the country die from the flu each year. More than 200,000 are hospitalized.
The numbers are motivating California to mandate healthcare workers who don't get the flu vaccine to wear a mask when seeing patients to minimize transmission, especially to infants, senior citizens and others with weaker immune systems.
"If you're not going to get the vaccine, you should want to protect the people around you that you serve by wearing a mask," California Medical Association Dr. Anthony Russell said.
But the California Nurses Association opposes the mask mandate. It feels a mask will affect their relationship with patients.
Deanna Quinn said a mask would alarm her.
"If I went in and saw a healthcare worker with a mask, I would assume that person was sick," Quinn said.
The Assembly Health Committee took up amendments; the proposal now doesn't even mention masks.
It now allows the California Department of Public Health in a couple of years to mandate a 90 percent flu vaccination rate at hospitals and other medical centers.
It'll be up to agency to figure out the consequences if compliance rates fall below that, whether that be a mask requirement or losing their job.
Alicia Haywood is concerned about her grandson Israel if medical personnel treating him aren't vaccinated against the flu.
"The mask keeps germs from spreading," Haywood said. "If they're seeing patients one after one on a daily basis, it would be a good idea."
Most hospitals in the United States require vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B prior to employment. The medical community points out more people die from the flu a year nationwide than all those diseases combined.