Three employees of an Asheville, North Carolina hospital said goodbye to their jobs recently after they refused their flu vaccine. The Hospital, which has adopted a policy that requires all healthcare workers, volunteers, and other staff to be vaccinated or leave their job is a trend that is spreading across the state.
Mandatory flu shots have been an issue for many years and recently the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement demanding that healthcare workers take a mandatory flu vaccine– claiming that those who refuse are risking patient safety and jeopardizing the health of all that they come in contact with. The facility, Mission Hospital employs over 6,300 employees who have until December 1 to get their vaccine.
There was the option of applying for a medical or religious exemption to the rule, which had to be submitted prior to December 15 or be fired. 14 employees failed to submit an appeal and of those 14, 11 decided to get their shot and remain employed. But the final three refused to be vaccinated and they did lose their jobs. According to the Citizen-Times, at least six other North Carolina-based hospitals are following a similar policy.
While no one disagrees that flu vaccination is a wise way to prevent contracting the flu, where two personal rights stop and start? While the majority of healthcare workers agree to their vaccine, there are some who refuse. A cashier at AnMed Health in Anderson South Carolina sued her hospital over the policy stating that it violated her personal privacy. A South Carolina judge ruled in early December that the hospital can in fact require its employees to get a mandatory flu shot–overruling her appeal.
Currently, North Carolina is not planning to make flu vaccination mandatory. The state is following similar trends when compared to the rest of the nation when it comes to overall vaccination rates of healthcare workers. Sagging numbers have caused hospital administration to take drastic measures in an attempt to force compliance.
Nationally, 49% of healthcare workers had a flu shot in 07-08, 37% were vaccinated against the H1N1 flu, and 62% had a seasonal flu shot in January of 2010. Some medical representatives have gone so far as to say that healthcare workers who choose not to take a flu vaccine are intentionally inflicting harm or are borderline abusive to their patients because of their choice. I simply could not disagree more with that statement. While no healthcare worker intends to intentionally infect any patient with influenza, every healthcare worker feels that they should be able take responsibility for their own individual care and make their own choices.
The majority of healthcare workers are neither intimidated nor swayed by fancy television commercials or long lines of panicked people trying to find a vaccine. If hospitals want health care workers to take a flu shot, they should allow them the freedom of making an individual decision and not force a choice.
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