Patients can refuse a flu shot. Should doctors and nurses have that right, too? The answer to this thorny question is simple No. Sick and immunocompromised hospital patients should not need to fear being infected with the flu virus by those charged with ministering to them, and healthcare workers should not have to also deal with ill medical workers who didn t get immunized, nor bear their sick co-employees share of the burden.
Currently, only three states, Arkansas, Maine, and Rhode Island, dole out penalties to healthcare workers who refuse to get a flu shot, but with this flu season being the worst in a decade, the pressure is on. Yesterday, The American College of Physicians approved a policy recommendation that all health care providers be immunized against not only influenza but diphtheria, hepatitis B; measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and varicella (chickenpox) according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Adult Immunization Schedule. The ACP's policy does however exempt employee vaccinations for medical reasons or religious objections.
With countless practitioners and other public health officials endorsing mandatory flu vaccines for health care workers, it is hard to believe that there is so much resistance. Much of the resistance to mandatory healthcare worker vaccination has, in the past, centered on nurses groups. To address that problem, ACSH advisor Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center, wrote an important op-ed Nurses, vaccinate thyselves, calling for all nurses to be vaccinated against the flu.
Nurses say they are advocates for patients and that they stand for science. Huge numbers of them do. That s why we admire and trust them. But when a nurses union blathers on about labor relations in the face of a flu epidemic, or a nurse tells us her religion opposes vaccination when it s really a matter of personal, unscientific preference, then that trust is not deserved.
Furthermore, with the flu epidemic reaching record high figures, we d like to take this opportunity to note that ACSH has submitted a petition calling upon the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) to make influenza vaccination mandatory as a condition of working with patients in the New York City s public hospitals. The petition has been co-signed by thirty experts in immunology, vaccine science and infectious disease, both from within and without the City borders; some are nationally known experts. We shall make this document public after our discussions with the HHC are either underway, or when we determine that such are not going to occur. Stay tuned!