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Sanford Health makes flu shot mandatory for employees

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Sanford Health, which operates clinics across the Dakotas and Minnesota, says it will make flu vaccines mandatory for all employees, MPR reports.

Making the shots voluntary hasn't been effective – only about 70 percent of Sanford's 26,000 employees got the shots, Director of Infection Control and Prevention Dr. Paul Carson told MPR.

Hospital and clinic patients are the most vulnerable people to influenza and it's effects, so it's important health care workers not be susceptible to getting and spreading it, Carson said.

The move comes as part of a broader debate continues over whether health-care workers should be forced to get flu shots. A Cincinnati-based health center fired 150 of its 10,800 workers the day before Thanksgiving last year for not complying with a mandatory shot rule.

Forcing hospital workers to be vaccinated is not a guarantee that a company will lose employees – one study found nearly 100 percent compliance with such a program at a Chicago-area hospital, CNBC reported. Nationwide, about 63 percent of all heath-care workers get a flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control says.

Flu season generally starts in the fall and peaks in January or February.

The Minnesota Department of Health said there were just over 200 flu-related deaths in the state during the 2012-13 season, the highest death toll in four years, the Pioneer Press reported.

It's hard to nail down an accurate "average" number of flu deaths per year nationwide, the CDC has said. CDC officials have urged reporters not to use the oft-quoted figure of 36,000, NPR reported a few years ago.

There were only 3,349 flu-related deaths in 1986-87, the CDC says. Perhaps the worst year in recent memory was 2003-04, when there were 48,614 flu deaths, the CDC reported.

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