Bill Staples, a Mississippi Department of Health employee, is given an intradermal shot of flu vaccine by Rosemary Jones, RN. (Photo: AP/Rogelio V. Solis)
Given that it's flu season, it might seem in the best interest of healthcare workers to receive a flu shot to protect themselves and patients. But some hospitals and local governments are instituting mandates for employees to get the shot and, in some areas, those who don't comply could lose their jobs.
The "no shot, no job" policy is being adopted by healthcare institutions nationwide and some employees have been fired or suspended without pay already, while others are sacrificing their beliefs in order to keep their jobs.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those who "live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications" from the flu, receive the shot.
HuffPost Live recently featured a nurse, Kay Miller, who doesn't say which hospital she was allegedly fired from, but she cited her reason for refusing the shot as because her daughter is vaccine injured.
Those refusing the shot have said they believe it infringes upon their rights.
NBC Connecticut reported Wendi Comeau, who is an accountant (she doesn't even work with patients) at Hartford HealthCare, saying she prefers a more holistic approach to medicine for herself and that she wouldn't compromise her beliefs for her job.
“If I'm meant to get the flu, then I think that's God's will," Comeau said.
Comeau applied for an exemption based on her faith and was denied at first. According to NBC Connecticut, she hired a lawyer, appealed this decision and was approved afterward.
The Advisory Board Company reported in Connecticut alone 19 of the state's 29 acute care hospitals have a "no shot, no job" mandate, but most allow for religious and medical exemptions. One hospital requires a note from a spiritual leader to apply for the exemption.
"There are a few hardcore people who are holding out, and that's their prerogative," Steven Aronin, Waterbury Hospital's chief of infectious diseases, said according to the Advisory Board Company.
Karen McKinnon who served as a surgical assistant for 32 years at Waterbury hospital in Connecticut was suspended without pay earlier this month for refusing to get the shot. If she and other employees didn't receive the vaccine by Dec. 15 (tomorrow) they would lose their jobs completely.
A few days after NBC Connecticut reported McKinnon saying she was "shocked" by the mandate and her suspension, she decided she maintaining her job was more important and received the shot.
Last month, CBS out of Fredrick, Maryland, reported 14 local hospital workers refusing the shot faced terminating if they didn't comply by the deadline. Fredrick Memorial Hospital had granted 52 exemptions of its 2,800 employees. A woman from Liberty, Missouri, wishing to avoid the shot too feared she would lose her job over non-compliance.
About 150 employees of Cincinatti's TriHealth received notices in November about the necessity that they receive the flu shot before their Dec. 3 deadline. WLWT reported TriHealth spokesman Jeff Stewart saying since the notice was issued 82 people had gotten the shot or provided proper documentation to be exempt.
If you think such a requirement of employees is illegal, labor attorney Michael Harrington of Murtha Cullina LLP told NBC Connecticut it's actually quite legal.
“As a general matter, an employer can set up whatever requirements they need of their employees,” Harrington said to NBC, noting that similar requirements are imposed by some schools to admit students.
Some hospitals enforcing such a mandate do provide alternatives for workers who wish to avoid getting the shot for whatever reason. The San Francisco Bay Area county government requires those who don't get the shot, for example, to wear a surgical mask during the flu season, but at least can retain their job.
Hartford HealthCare has instituted a similar policy for those receiving exemptions.
“I will be given a certain type of badge to wear, somehow indicating that i was exempt from the flu shot,” Comeau told NBC. “From what I understand I'll have to wear a mask if I’m within six feet of a patient.”
Still, some in Rhode Island are taking legal action even against the requirement to wear a mask. According to the Providence Journal, union workers filed a lawsuit last week against the Rhode Island Health Department's flu shot or mask mandate. The SEIU Healthcare Employees Union, District 1199, believes there is no medical evidence that vaccinating healthcare workers against the flu would protect patients or that surgical masks would prevent the spread as well.
Research by those with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy found that the flu vaccine in its current state is performing "suboptimal," according to the Minnesota Post. CIDRAP Director Michael Osterholm said that while the vaccine does offer some protection against the flu, it's not as effective as the medical community believes.
In Osterholm's 2011 study published in The Lancet, the team concluded:
Influenza vaccines can provide moderate protection against virologically confirmed influenza, but such protection is greatly reduced or absent in some seasons. Evidence for protection in adults aged 65 years or older is lacking. [Live attenuated influenza vaccine] consistently show highest efficacy in young children (aged 6 months to 7 years). New vaccines with improved clinical efficacy and effectiveness are needed to further reduce influenza-related morbidity and mortality.
Although more and more institutions have begun to mandate the flu shot each year, getting fired for refusal is nothing new. In 2010, two workers at Charleston (WV) Area Medical Center were firedand five from the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia (CHOP) lost their jobs. A couple working at CHOP in 2009 with religious opposition to the flu shot were fired for refusing it as well. Watch this NBC Philadelphia report at the time detailing their story:
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