Workplace safety means patient safety

While it primarily depends on national regulations, hospitals should be able to make their own decisions in consideration of their role in providing care for patients.

Hospitals are not fully independent. Oftentimes, they still rely on policies made for them by a larger institution such as the national government. Along with this, hospitals try their best to protect their premises, their employees, and ultimately their patients.

At a time when the question of a viable COVID-19 vaccine is only a matter of when, private hospitals in Myanmar wait for its availability and for the national policy on its distribution.

Hospital Insights Asia speaks with Dr Aung Pyae Kyaw, Executive Director at the Asia Royal Hospital, on how organisations are affected by national vaccination regulations and how they can create a win-win policy with regard to immunisation protocols in the workplace.

Decision from above

In Myanmar, there is a National Vaccination Program that lists compulsory vaccine for all citizens, from birth up to 18 months of age. Other vaccines, like the one for flu and cervical cancer vaccine, are voluntary. But there is no regulation yet on whether a COVID-19 vaccine will be made mandatory as well.

“We are waiting for the national vaccine policy towards COVID-19 as this is a communicable disease,” says Dr Kyaw. Currently, the Asia Royal Hospital does not mandate a vaccination requirement for employees. If the government decides to make it obligatory, there’ll be no question and private hospitals will ask employees to get immunised.

Should the government decide otherwise, private hospitals in Myanmar are left with a decision to make for their organisations. Dr Kyaw believes mandating a COVID-19 vaccine is non-negotiable for hospitals.

A safe hospital

Hospitals are supposed to provide safe healthcare to the community, says Dr Kyaw. “If a hospital isn’t safe, how can it effectively deliver care to patients?”

Since COVID-19 is a contagious infection, immunising healthcare workers, like nurses and doctors, not only protects patients but everyone in the hospital as well. After all, when employees are exposed to a high risk of infection, hospital operations will also be impacted.

Policy-wise, private hospitals in Myanmar can start accepting COVID-19 patients, but the government still has to provide clear instructions on patient admission. Should the rate of infection in private hospitals increase, Dr Kyaw believes that a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for employees will greatly contribute to workplace safety.

Finding a middle ground

Creating an individual policy for hospitals about the vaccine is not easy, and it isn’t about deciding differently from what the government enforces. Instead, it is about implementing this prerequisite given several considerations.

Not all employees will wholeheartedly accept this requirement. For some, having the vaccine goes against their individual beliefs or preferences and puts them at risk, as in the case of health conditions like allergies.

“Personally, I have encountered some patients refusing an antibiotic because of religious beliefs. I have also encountered doctors in my team refusing to believe in a vaccine because they don’t think it is safe and because they don’t want a live attenuated vaccine,” shares Dr Kyaw.

Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of awareness and encouragement. Some people are scared to get vaccinated just because they don’t know what its purpose is and how the vaccine can protect them. In such cases, a hospital has to help them be sufficiently and accurately informed.

Others are hesitant about the vaccine’s safety. At the Asia Royal Hospital, concerned specialists explain to the staff how vaccines work, thereby, easing the concern of employees, dispelling any of their misconceptions, and making them more open on getting immunised.

Non-discrimination likewise plays a part in creating a win-win scenario. Religious beliefs and personal preferences should always be respected. Hence, what the management can do is make amendments to still keep the workplace safe for employees who do not want to get the vaccine. Reassignments, for example, may be done, so non-immunised employees stay on areas which are less exposed to the infection.

Whatever changes are introduced in a hospital, Dr Kyaw highlights that mutual understanding between employees and employer should always be the priority.

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