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Legislation to require nurses, doctors and other hospital staff who decline to get a flu shot to wear a mask while working passed 23-9 in the California Senate today.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1318 argue that the proposal would protect patients by pushing more medical professionals to get the influenza vaccines and reduce the potential of exposure from those who decline the vaccinations.

"The problem is that too many in health care choose not to get the flu shot, thus putting patients at risk," said Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, the bill's author.

But the bill, which is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, ran into opposition from the California Nurses Association the California Labor Federation and Service Employees International Union, which represents some nurses and support staff.

Opponents believe employees "should not be forced to wear the 'Scarlett Letter' of a mask just because they've chosen not to get a flu shot," a Senate analysis says. They also have raised concerns that the policy would be confusing at hospitals and clinics that already have anti-flu measures in place.

Amendments to allow facilities to opt out of the mask policy if they meet high influenza vaccine compliance rates failed to appease the opposition. 

Wolk said that only 64 percent of health care workers get vaccinated and that her bill would raise that figure to 90 percent.

Hannah Madans contributed to this report.

Dan Morain: Nurses union puts politics ahead of health


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