Debate over mandated vaccination continuesVoice your opinion, take our informal poll located in the right sidebar.
What rights do I forfeit to work in health care?
Do health care workers have a "duty" to be vaccinated against seasonal flu?
The answer to that question is "yes" ccording to the New York Times who published an article suggesting that health care workers "should know better and anyone". The article cites a recent survey conducted by the CDC and claims that while doctors and nurses are "getting the message" about flu vaccination, mid-level providers and other health staff are not. They goe on to state that "Vaccinations of health care personnel should be required, either by state laws or by employers" and further notes that compliance is 95% when flu vaccination is mandated by an employer.
Should health care employers "mandate" workers to be vaccinated?
According to an opinion published in Medscape, Why Hospital Workers Should Be Forced To Get Flu Shots, by Arthur L. Caplan, PhD, the answer to the question of mandated flu vaccine is clearly affirmative. Correctly noting that seasonal influenza impacts high risk groups such as extremes of age, immune-compromised, and those living in long term care facilities, he states -
"Ethically, your first obligation is to do no harm. If you are there to do no harm and that is your primary obligation, then you cannot put your personal choice or your personal reluctance to get that shot above doing harm. And you are likely to do harm to others if you do not get that shot."He goes on to say -
"...every code of ethics that I have seen -- medical, nursing, and others -- says that we put patient interests first. It is not in the patient's interest for you to not get a flu shot. If we are putting patient interests first, if that rhetoric is what we believe in our codes of ethics, what we teach in our medical and nursing schools, there is no excuse for not getting a flu shot."Can a seasonal influenza vaccine be mandated as a "condition of employment" be enforced?
New York State attempted to mandate vaccine during the 2009 H1N1pandemic for all health care workers. The vaccine mandate was made by then Governor David Patterson despite a lack of vaccine, a sustainable mass vaccination program or a declaration of public health emergency. There was also considerable debate as to who, exactly, was considered health care workers. Most studies overlook non staff health care professionals such as EMS providers, firefigters and other public safety responders who contact the public in and out of the hospital setting.
Should we include environmental/support service staff or provide for blanket inclusion of anyone who would walk into a hospital?
Not everyone agrees with vaccine mandates.
New York State Nurses Association vigorously opposed the vaccine mandate in 2009. (See NYS Nurses Opposes Mandates for Vaccine) In June, 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement saying they would not endorse mandated flu vaccines for health care workers for that year. The announcement by the CDC was a reversal from their controversial stance in 2009 that anyone working in a hospital must be vaccinated against the H1N1 Swine Flu. The full text of the CDC's statement can be found here.
Can vaccination be mandated without a formal declaration of a public health emergency?
You may recall that the United States Army (2003) had to resort to disciplinary action against soldiers who refused mandated Anthrax vaccine in preparation for deployment to a area with a credible Anthrax threat. The Army Anthrax vaccination program was eventually halted by federal court in 2006.
If the Army cannot mandate vaccine soldiers in the presence of a credible threat, can anyone mandate civilian health care workers to be vaccinated in the absence of public health emergency?
If health care providers are mandated to be vaccinated today, what will be mandated tomorrow?
What do the experts say? The opinion of the CDC is echoed by other infectious disease. The Society for Health care Epidemiology of America (SHEA) has released a position paper endorsing mandated vaccination with endorsement from the Infectious Disease Society of America. According to the SHEA media release:
More than one controversy in this situation."...influenza vaccination of health care personnel [is] a core patient safety practice that should be a condition of both initial and continued employment in health care facilities."
There is no doubt that flu vaccination will prevent the spread of flu, seasonal or otherwise. Public health history reminds us that viruses like Smallpox can be eradicated by a staunch vaccination effort. But can we expect to vanquish Type A influenza by mandating seasonal flu vaccination?