SD health systems requiring staff vaccines

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota’s top three health systems say they will require annual flu vaccinations for all employees, health care providers and volunteers.

Sanford Health, Avera Health and Regional Health said in a joint release that the decision was made to maximize patient safety and protect employees against the disease.

“Required influenza vaccination for health care workers is the right thing to do for patient safety,” said Charles Hart, president and chief executive of Rapid City-based Regional Health.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease spread by droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking.

South Dakota this past winter had its highest number of flu deaths since 2004 with 37.

The disease can be high risk for the elderly and young children. Pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, health-care workers and household contacts of high risk populations are also vulnerable.

Wendell Hoffman, the medical director of infection prevention and control for Sanford’s Sioux Falls region, said the decision has physician support in all of Sanford’s four regions. Sanford Health is based in Sioux Falls and Fargo, N.D.

David Erickson, executive vice president and chief medical officer for Sioux Falls-based Avera, said vaccinations combined with good hand hygiene and covering coughs can help reduce the spread of the flu.

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