By Chaunie Brusie
A few weeks ago, I took my oldest daughter in for a flu shot. I signed the paperwork, looked over the informational pamphlet, and reassured her when the medical assistant brought the imposing-looking syringe into the room.
And then, I cringed when she proceeded to shut the door behind her, pull open a band-aid and stick it to her bare hand, then jab my daughter with the shot, all without wearing any gloves. I thought back to my time as a nurse at the hospital—had I ever administered a vaccine without wearing gloves? Was it required? Was I overreacting in thinking she should wear gloves?
I honestly couldn’t think of a time when I hadn’t worn gloves to give a vaccine, so I piped up and said something to the assistant, not-very-kindly suggested that she should be sure to wear gloves next time. But when I got home and did some research, I sheepishly realized that I was the one who had been wrong, not her. Turns out, gloves aren’t required to give vaccinations and I was actually a big ol’ jerk to the poor young woman.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Administration’s Best Practices Guidance of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), wearing gloves is not required for healthcare workers who are administering vaccinations. The official guidelines state: “Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations do not require gloves to be worn when administering vaccinations unless persons administering vaccinations have open lesions on their hands or are likely to come into contact with a patient’s body fluids.”
The rules on vaccines + gloves
So, if gloves aren’t required, what is required? Well, basic handwashing and clean hygiene, essentially. As the guidelines state: “Persons administering vaccinations should follow appropriate precautions to minimize risk for disease exposure and spread. Hands should be cleaned with an alcohol-based waterless antiseptic hand rub or washed with soap and water before preparing vaccines for administration and between each patient contact.”
Kasey Baylis, 26, a public health nurse for Oakland County in Michigan who works with the Vaccine for Children program as a partner provider and immunization nurse educator, tells Nurse.org that she has given “hundreds of shots” in her lifetime as a nurse.
With a job that literally entails making sure vaccines are stored, handled, and administered correctly, Baylis is a woman who knows about vaccine safety. She explains that the way she was trained and the way she continues to train others on vaccine administration is that the administrator should properly wash his/her hands and use aseptic technique when administering the vaccine (i.e. using alcohol to clean the injection site, not contaminating the site after cleaned and not contaminating the needle), but that gloves are not required unless the nurse or healthcare worker has any open lesions or is likely to come in contact with the person’s bodily fluids.
Gloves aren’t really that clean anyways
Baylis also points out that if a vaccine is administered correctly, there should be little, if any, bodily fluid exposure and that contrary to popular belief, the gloves sitting in an open box in a doctor’s office or health clinic really aren’t all that much more sanitary than a clean pair of hands. In fact, the gloves may even contain more germs than clean hands. “Gloves are not required and generally do not provide any additional benefit to the patient,” she adds.
If gloves are worn, the administrator is still required to wash his or her hands between injections and patients, to remove any germs that may have transferred from the gloves to their hands. And many times, the only benefit to wearing gloves during vaccine administration is for protection for the administrator, not the patient.
Should you ask for gloves if you want them?
That being said, if you are just plain uncomfortable with the idea of a healthcare worker giving you or your family a vaccine without wearing gloves, Baylis encourages the idea of speaking up and asking them to don a pair of gloves before an injection, simply because in her mind, if that means one more person is vaccinated against a preventable disease, then it’s worth it.
“When it comes to vaccines and all of the negative propaganda out there, I feel that gloves should not be another barrier to being immunized,” she says. “Adhering to the ACIP recommended schedule is your best protection against vaccine-preventable diseases that still exist today, so ultimately, if that means wearing gloves for a patient than I would gladly do it!”