MANDATORY SHOTS: AN INFRINGEMENT OF RIGHTS OR A SAFETY MEASURE? – Should health care workers be mandated to get a flu shot or lose their jobs? This question is causing quite a stir lately as more hospitals are leading the way by letting go of employees who refuse to get vaccinated. Combine an ever increasing elderly population with the rise of flu cases in the last few years and it is clear that steps need to be taken to protect staff and patients alike. Ohio and 15 other states across the nation have already reached epidemic numbers of flu cases, well before the peak of the season in March. In response, the states of Rhode Island, New York, Indiana and Texas have mandated that all hospital workers from janitorial and kitchen staff to administration and health care providers receive the flu shot or be fired. More states are expected to follow suit and many will include any health care worker, like those found in doctor’s offices and home health care, who come in contact with the public to be vaccinated. Are these measures extreme?
Some employees think so. Several nurses and staff members are saying “no” to the mandatory vaccination and are willing to fight for the right to refuse and keep their jobs. Nurses’ unions cite statistics that the shot may not be safe since production has been rushed, that it may not be as effective as it is said to be and that wearing a mask may prevent the spread of the flu just as well and without the possible side effects. Employees worry about too much government interference and see the mandate as an assault on their personal freedoms. A scant few are declaring religious reasons for not having the shot. Some are protesting that the flu is mild when compared to staph infections, MRSA and pneumonia; all of which are transmitted easily and have a greater risk of complications and death. Why, they ask are extreme measures not being taken for these illnesses as well?
I’ll tell you why. These cases are few and do not stir public panic in the same way the flu does. The flu comes every year, at roughly the same time and you can count on it to affect the lives of thousands of people. There is a shot. One shot, not a series of shots that may help prevent or lessen the severity of symptoms. When someone has the flu, they are contagious for one full day before they start showing symptoms and for five days after that. If they are young or have health issues they can be contagious for up to two weeks. Most people will continue to work, attend school or go out even when they know they are sick so it spreads quickly. To not get a handle on the flu before an outbreak is irresponsible and a danger to the public. With the number of patients seen in a day, healthcare workers are the greatest threat of spreading the flu to an uninfected patient.
We all recognize that hand washing and wearing gloves is first and foremost the first line of defense between a patient and their caregiver. In my rural hospital, there is a sink in every exam room, even in the E.R., and any staff entering the room wash their hands before and after any interaction, plus don gloves before any physical contact. It is not this way in all hospitals and I am fortunate that these measures are taken. As a general rule, medical staff receive shots for hepatitis B, tetanus, chicken pox, diphtheria, MMR among others. Shouldn’t those in the health care industry be the healthiest they can be and aren’t they also responsible for our health while in their care? Don’t I as a patient have the right to expect my Dr. and his staff to take the proper precautions to insure I don’t get sick when I visit the office? Important questions that are only now being addressed.
I am all for personal rights and freedoms, but I also have rights and freedoms. When you take a job in the health care industry I think you should realize that you will need to take preventive measures above and beyond what the average citizen will do, to protect yourself, your loved ones and anyone in your care. It’s not too much to ask, it is part of your job. I own a therapy dog and we visit nursing homes and rehabilitation centers several days a week. In order to protect myself and any residents or patients we encounter I have taken a pro-active stance. It is the sensible thing to do and although no one asked or required that I take those extra steps I feel it is my responsibility and do so willingly. If it was mandated, I would not hesitate to oblige.
There are those who are concerned that the recent firings will create a shortage of workers as the number of flu cases increases. It just may, and it surely will cause hospital staff to become overworked. As to next year, a precedent has now been set in place and although there may be a few cases brought to court, it is clear that flu shots will be added to the requirements for employment.
As a side note, the State of New Jersey currently requires flu vaccinations for admission to pre-school and day care. There is talk of mandatory vaccinations for all school aged children across the nation.