Ohio hospitals mandate flu vaccines, but requirement has too many loopholes

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Ohio hospitals are going to bat for their patients, enacting strict measures to make sure all their workers get flu vaccines. The Columbus Dispatch details how hospitals in the Buckeye State are withholding raises, cutting off computer access and disciplining workers who refuse the shots. Cincinnati-based TriHealth, which operates three area hospitals, has even threatened to fire 150 employees who fail to get vaccinated by Dec. 3 although, contrary to some reports, no one has actually been fired yet.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross applauds these hospitals for their measures to protect patient health, but is disturbed that some are granting waivers based on religious or philosophical grounds. He says ACSH trustee Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center with the Children s Hospital of Philadelphia, asks employees who want a religious exemption to bring in some documentation from their religious authorities showing that their ethics preclude vaccination. However, notes Dr. Ross, There is, of course, no such religious tome, because it would predate vaccinations. Religious exemptions have been used to skirt vaccine requirements, but health care workers in hospitals should know better than that, as should their employers.

Some hospitals are also granting exemptions based on medical conditions that might trigger an adverse reaction to the vaccine, according to the Columbus Dispatch article but no such medical conditions exist, ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom says. Flu shots are highly recommended for pregnant women, and have been shown to be safe for people with egg allergies. (If anyone has lingering concerns on that count, we noted yesterday that the Food and Drug Administration just approved Novartis new flu vaccine that is manufactured using animal cells rather than chicken eggs.)