When I got home and fired up my laptop I was greeted by blazing red headliner letters on Drudge Report that read “Mandatory vaccination for 500,000 in NY“. Given my interest in the pandemic issue and my general belief in the efficacy of the influenza vaccine in the face of a pandemic, even a mild one, I experienced a visceral reaction to the headline. Crap! That’s all we need to fuel the controversy – tell people they are subject to a mandatory vaccination.
However, after reading the actual news item I take acceptation to the headline. This is not a legal requirement, this is a requirement of continued employment – they are two different things. New York health care workers are completely free to not get vaccinated and their employers are completely free to fire them if they do not.
Despite a planned rally in Albany Tuesday to protest a state regulation requiring health care workers be vaccinated against influenza — both seasonal and swine flu — New York’s top public health official predicts dissenters will ultimately extinguish their anger and roll up their sleeves.
The regulation, which was approved in August, comes with a stinging addendum: Get vaccinated or get fired.
But some nurses and many other health care providers say the regulation violates their personal freedom and leaves them vulnerable to vaccine injury. And they cite deaths associated with the last federal government swine-flu vaccination program in 1976.
Refusing to be immunized against H1N1 because of the vaccine debacle in 1976 “is like saying a plane crashed 33 years ago so I’ll never fly again,” said Dr. Richard Daines, New York State health commissioner.
New York is the only state in the nation to require that health care workers be vaccinated, though other states are considering such measures. Health workers, including doctors, must be immunized by Nov. 30. Opponents say it’s simply unnecessary.
I am a staunch and vocal proponent of immunizations, the influenza immunization included. I am also in absolute full agreement with this employment requirement. Medical professionals come into physical contact with the patients they serve. Setting aside proactively protecting one’s own health, becoming infecting and passing the infection on to others, some of whom may develop life threatening complications – and some of those might be fatal is something to be guarded against with the means we have at our disposal, in this case that is a vaccine, along with standard hospital infectious disease protocols. When someone’s health and life are at risk extra burdens are placed on those who introduce the element of risk.
It is technically no different than the requirements I had to meet yearly to remain a certified police officer; without certification a person cannot be a law enforcement officer in the state of South Carolina. Those requirements were to protect the public I was out protecting. Some professions carry extra burdens for those who are in them, it’s just the way of it – accept it or move on.
Several registered nurses said they will neither contract nor transmit the flu because they’re constantly washing their hands.
The ignorance of that belief is astounding. I can’t help but wonder if these nurses have read or heard anything about Canadian nurses and the SARS outbreak in that country. Canada was not the only country that had nurses become infected with SARS, some of which were fatal.
SARS was not as transmissible as the influenza virus and SARS was also not infectious until after obvious symptoms presented. With influenza a person can be infectious prior to physical symptoms, in other words, a person can infect someone else [potentially] before they even know they are infected themselves. The exact threat or how much virus is shed prior to symptoms has not been quantified.
“We cannot force employees to be vaccinated; however we do not have an infinite number of non-patient care positions available to reassign those who simply refuse the vaccine,” said hospital spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow.
To restate my earlier point: Accept it or move on. If the choice is to not receive a vaccine that would be a choice freely exercised. A choice freely exercised does not a victim make.
I applaud New York’s decision. It protects the most people in the best manner we have at our disposal. Sometimes, the best we can do is imperfect, but – it’s the best we can do.