Hospitals around the country are mandating that employees receive the flu shot. While many hospitals already have high vaccine rates, the new mandates are being met with resistance from some employees.
The American Hospital Association recommended all hospitals create universal flu vaccination programs in July 2011. The policy is intended to protect employees and patients. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified that health care workers are frequently the source of transmission of influenza in health care settings.
Hospital patients are already in an immune compromised state and their risk of contracting influenza is higher. Employees with known egg allergies, severe reactions to previous flu shots or religious beliefs are exempt from these mandates and required to wear a mask and take other precautions.
Helen Darling, the president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health supports the mandates. “The virus can be transmitted to patients by both symptomatic and asymptomatic health care providers. One in four health care workers shows evidence of having the flu each year. And 70 percent of them continue to work despite having flu-like symptoms.”
While some resistant employees argue that the flu shot makes them sick, or they don’t trust substances like formaldehyde that are in flu shots, many are arguing that it’s a violation of their civil liberties. Brandon Hostler is a registered nurse in West Virginia and is always one of the first at his hospital to receive the vaccine. He says if the vaccine becomes mandatory, he will quit or switch jobs. “We are health care professionals. We know the risks and the benefits, and to force us to do something like that and not to have a say in it, I think it would be offensive.”
Amy Garcia, the chief nursing officer for the American Nurses Association counters that on an individual level, having a flu vaccine is an ethical responsibility. “Part of nursing’s code of ethics is that the patient comes first. So we believe if there is a chance that a nurse could expose a patient, it is the ethical responsibility of the nurse to be protected by vaccinations.”
The Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut recently adopted a flu shot mandate. Part-time employee Pam Curley states, “I think it’s about choice. If you want it, go ahead and get it, but I don’t think there should be these drastic strong arm measures where you are threatened by the loss of a job.”
Dr. Steven Aronin is the Chief of the Infectious Disease Section at Waterbury Hospital and says the mandate is to protect the public, patients and the health care workers. Patient care is trumping the right of employees to choose. “There are other things we ask of our employees when they get hired by Waterbury Hospital,” Dr. Aronin notes.
Waterbury Hospital is not the only hospital seeing resistance. The University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center implemented the rule this year and nurses are protesting. At UMASS, nurses that don’t comply will be required to wear a mask, but will not be fired.
Health care providers who have their own hesitations about vaccines should not influence their patients to not get vaccinated. Vaccine Watch believes hospital supervisors and administrators should be aware of how their staff feel about getting vaccinated themselves, and be aware of what they may be saying to patients about getting vaccinated.