Health-care workers wise to get flu shots

But firing doctors and nurses who refuse the vaccine for personal reasons goes too far.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns this year’s flu outbreak is “expected to be among the worst in a decade.”

Given that, it would be smart to get a flu shot — particularly for health-care workers who are more likely to be exposed to the flu as well as spread it. But should doctors and nurses be fired from their jobs if they refuse the vaccine?

No.

The decision whether to have a vaccine put into your bloodstream is — or, at least should be — a personal one. Some people are allergic to certain vaccines, some object for religious reasons and others are concerned vaccines will cause them long-term health problems.

Yet, hospitals are firing doctors and nurses who refuse to get flu shots.

A survey by CDC researchers found that in 2011, more than 400 U.S. hospitals required flu vaccinations for their employees and 29 of those hospitals fired unvaccinated employees.

While most health-care workers are vaccinated, many are not. The latest federal data indicates 37 percent of U.S. health-care workers don’t get flu shots. This would suggest that a great many hospitals opted not to fire employees who were not vaccinated.

Since being allowed to stay on the job isn’t something that’s a reportable statistic, it’s impossible to know how the hospitals reconciled their policy mandating vaccinations with employees who refuse to comply.

Cancer nurse Joyce Gingerich was one of seven employees fired at Health Goshed Hospital in Indiana.

She said her decision to refuse the shot was essentially “a personal thing.” Gingerich said she gets other vaccinations but thinks it should be a choice. She opposes “the injustice of being forced to put something in my body.”

She isn’t alone in this stand.

It would seem a reasonable approach to take would be to allow employees the option of being reassigned to areas of the hospital where passing along the flu would not put lives of patients in grave danger. For example, oncology or ICU are places were a flu outbreak would create a high-risk situation. Working in more general areas of the hospital isn’t particularly dangerous.

After all, this vaccine is far from a guarantee of getting sick. Flu happens, and it even happens to those who get the flu shot. This vaccine isn’t like the one for polio that has nearly eradicated the disease.

The 29 hospitals that are canning employees need to take a more pragmatic view. Figure a way to keep qualified doctors and nurses on staff without putting patients at an elevated risk.

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