Permanent Secretary Sillanaukee: Vaccination is important both for patients and employees – law must be interpreted in accordance with the intention of the law

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 19.4.2018 16.05 | Published in English on 23.4.2018 at 15.23
Press release 60/2018

"The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health drafts legislation, and therefore we are monitoring how section 48 of the new Communicable Diseases Act is interpreted in different parts of the country. Section 48 deals with the vaccination coverage of employees and students. Thanks to that section, vaccination coverage of staff has significantly improved in many hospitals. However, some workplaces have also had problems", says Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Employers need to remember that getting a vaccination is always voluntary in Finland. If members of staff have been threatened to lose their jobs if they do not want to be vaccinated, section 48 of the Act has been interpreted against its intention, Sillanaukee reminds.

"The obligation laid down by the Act applies to work in client and patient facilities that are used for treating patients susceptible to severe consequences from communicable diseases. The Act aims to define the places where patients with the most severe conditions are treated. Section 48 is not meant to apply to all facilities where people could spread infections", Sillanaukee specifies.

"I emphasise that the vaccination coverage of healthcare professionals is always based on a medical assessment defining which patients are susceptible to severe consequences from communicable diseases. It has been reliably proven that vaccinations of health care professionals improve patient safety. Vaccination does not only protect the patients but also the employees and their fellow workers", Sillanaukee points out.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has issued instructions for the municipalities on how they should interpret section 48 of the Communicable Diseases Act (Kuntainfo 8/2017, available in Finnish and Swedish).

"The Communicable Diseases Act does not amend the legislation regulating employment relationships or change any other practices normally followed in working life. However, employers must make sure that their staff's vaccination coverage is sufficient. If not, it is the duty of the employer to assign only such tasks to their non-vaccinated employees that do not compromise patient safety.  As the interpretations of section 48 have varied since it came into force, in the near future the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the National Institute for Health and Welfare will specify the instructions the Ministry issued in December. Our aim is to avoid unclear and unfortunate situations in future", says Sillanaukee.

According to Sillanaukee, vaccination coverage in Finland is good and we can be proud of it on the global scale. Section 48 of the Communicable Diseases Act aims for a significant increase in patient safety and in vaccination coverage of healthcare staff. The staff's positive attitude towards vaccinations also has a role in maintaining the same positive attitude among the whole population. Various studies have proven that vaccination is the most effective method available to prevent severe communicable diseases.

Inquiries:

Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary, tel. +358 2951 63356.
Sari Ekholm, Senior Medical Officer, tel. +358 2951 63447
Liisa Katajamäki, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Legal Affairs, tel. +358 2951 63329
Anni-Riitta Virolainen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Medical Affairs, tel. +358 2951 63324

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