The warnings have been loud and clear from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This influenza season is off to an early and serious start. With that in mind, a number of states are requiring all health professionals in the state to receive the flu vaccination. Some of those opposed to getting vaccinated are being fired by hospitals and health facilities. Because of this, a controversy is arising between employee rights and patient safety, according to a number of news sources.
Mandatory Flu Shots to Keep Patients Safe.
In December 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced a 10-year agenda to improve the nation’s health. It’s called Healthy People 2020. A part of this agenda calls for a ninety percent (90%) average vaccination rate of health professionals. Click here to read the press release on the Healthy People 2020 initiative from the DHHS.
According to an American Medical News article, there’s a push in the medical community to meet this goal as soon as possible. The CDC states that as of November 18, 2011, close to eighty-four percent (84%) of doctors in the U.S. had been immunized against influenza. The CDC is praising these doctors for this high number, hoping other health professionals and the public will follow suit.
The safety of patients is the chief reason for the mandate. In an ABC News article, one Indiana hospital said that it implemented the mandatory vaccine in September of 2012, to promote patient safety. Of the hospital’s 26,000 employees statewide, ninety-five percent (95%) have complied.
Health Care Professionals Are Fired If They Refuse to Get the Vaccine.
A large majority of employees at the Indiana hospital complied with the mandate; however, 1,300 employees did not. According to ABC News, eight employees, including at least three veteran nurses, were allegedly fired because they refused to get a flu vaccine.
The fired nurses are standing their ground, saying they should have the right to refuse the flu vaccine. One nurse had filed two medical exemption requests, a religious exemption request and two appeals. All were denied by the hospital. To read more on this story from ABC News, click here.
In October 2012, Rhode Island mandated immunizations for all health care workers who have patient contact. On December 6, 2012, a health care worker union filed a federal lawsuit against the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) to prevent it from implementing the regulations, according to a Fierce Healthcare article. Click here to read the entire Fierce Healthcare article.
Arguments Against the Flu Shot.
The attorney representing the Indiana nurses, who were fired, states that his clients had the right to refuse their flu shots. He argues Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination against employees. The attorney is suggesting religion is legally broad under the First Amendment, so it can include any strongly held belief. According to a Chicago Tribune article, in 2009 New York mandated flu shots for all health workers, during the H1N1 outbreak. Unions fought the issue in court, and the state has since relaxed the rule.
The Flu in Florida.
I’ve recently received calls from several local health care professionals working in different Florida hospitals, regarding refusing flu shots and other vaccinations. I’ve also read the news stories about Tampa General Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa requiring employees to receive the influenza vaccine. According to the news articles, the two Tampa health facilities require employees who refuse the flu shot to wear surgical masks.
However, the states and hospitals may not back down in this case. The issue may have to be decided by the courts. I promise to write more on this topic later.
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What do you think of mandated flu shots for health care workers? Is receiving a flu shot mandatory at your job? As a health care professional, do you think it is important to receive a flu shot? Is there enough medical evidence to justify firing health care professionals for not receiving the flu shot? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Lupkin, Sydney. “Nurses Fire for Refusing Flu Shot.” ABC News. (January 3, 2013). From: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/indiana-hospital-fires-nurses-refusing-flu-shot/story?id=18116967
Moyer, Christine. “More Physicians on Track to get Flu Shots.” American Medical News. (December 14, 2012). From: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/12/10/hlsb1214.htm
Cheung-Larivee, Karen. “Health Unions Sue Over Mandated Flu Shots.” Fierce Healthcare. (December 10, 2012). From: http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/story/health-unions-sue-over-mandated-flu-shots/2012-12-10
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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