New York gives strong push to workplace flu vaccinations in health department action

On Wednesday, New York’s health department issued an emergency alert ordering all businesses and institutions to immunize employees or face having their permits revoked.

The order applies to eateries, hotels, gyms, and other institutions with more than 75 employees and is now in effect until Nov. 30.

The order extends a similar order issued on Sept. 28 which forbids smoking inside offices, even if the smoke is not directly emitted from a health care setting. New York’s businesses and institutions are already required to mandate employee health screenings, including influenza vaccinations, and monitor for flu as a requirement of their state licenses.

Under the new rule, businesses can still remain smoke-free but must require employees to wear respirators for indoor offices and private residences that only possess five or fewer bedrooms.

The health department also said that children under 10-years-old must show proof of a flu vaccination, if applicable, to enter or play in any private playground on school property. This applies to playgrounds operated by schools that do not operate on their own property.

The recommendations for businesses are rooted in the 2017 American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine report noting that dust, mold, broken pipes, and other environmental factors can contribute to the spread of the flu in enclosed spaces.

The report highlights the importance of demonstrating “adequate cleaning” and “good ventilation” for public and institutional premises, and recommends small-space practitioners trained in respiratory or environmental interventions, such as ventilation, and people with respiratory problems be recruited to attend the clinic to check on compliance.

New York’s advisory applies to any establishment that has hired on more than 75 employees in the prior month. Companies with fewer than 75 employees that contract out for service will not be impacted.

The health department pointed out that individuals are required to check with their health insurance provider for any workers with pre-existing conditions and the “intended beneficiaries” of benefits may require the mandate.

New York’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said in a statement that this order does not establish a mandatory system for vaccinations to be administered to employees.

“While it’s important that establishments maintain a smoke-free work environment, the responsibility for providing vaccine orders rests with the employer, not the health department,” Zucker said.

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