Many Health Care Workers Resist Pressure to Get Flu Shots

Daily News Article   —   Posted on September 9, 2009

(from WashingtonTimes.com) ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Tens of thousands of health care workers who typically avoid flu shots are under more pressure than ever to get vaccinated as hospitals and clinics prepare for a spike in swine flu cases this fall and winter.

Roughly half of U.S. health workers skip the immunizations, raising two concerns: If doctors and nurses get sick, who will treat what could be millions of Americans reeling from seasonal or swine flu? And could infected health workers make things worse by spreading flu to patients?

New York, the first state to be hard-hit by swine flu, is requiring all health workers to get immunized against both types of flu. Other states are weighing whether to follow suit.

But shots for all health workers may not be an easy sell.

Fewer than half of them got flu vaccinations last year, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of about 1,000 workers. That includes physicians in clinics, lab technicians, respiratory therapists and home health aides. Rates are highest among doctors and nurses in hospitals – 70 percent to 80 percent, but the overall rate shows many still shun the shots.

Why? The reasons vary from safety concerns to skepticism over vaccine effectiveness.

Sandra Morales, a labor and delivery nurse in New York City, had her last flu shot 16 years ago. She said she got the flu anyway. She objects to New York’s new law, saying it infringes on free-choice rights. “It’s crossing the line, and I’m opposed to that.”

Hospital workers “are at risk for being exposed to many, many diseases,” she said. “Imagine if we had to take a vaccine for everything that comes in the door.”

Miss Morales worries she might lose her job if she refuses – it will be up to individual clinics and health centers to decide how to enforce the law. She has until Nov. 30 to get her shots. Both the seasonal flu vaccine (available this month) and swine flu vaccine (expected in October) are required for workers in hospitals, treatment centers and in home care.

That may mean three separate shots, if the swine flu vaccine requires two doses to be effective. Testing in the U.S. is under way to determine the dose.

The uncertainty about the new swine flu vaccine has added to the challenge.

“If health care workers have concerns about the safety and efficacy of a vaccine that has been around for decades, I’m sure they’re going to have those same concerns about a vaccine that we’ve never used before,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, a Mayo Clinic vaccine specialist.

He said health workers are ethically obligated to get vaccinated for both kinds of flu. He supports requiring them.

The theory that health care workers could spread the infection is supported by only isolated evidence, but the fear persists.

Some large hospitals have adopted rules requiring employees to get flu shots. Loyola University Medical Center near Chicago and the Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia recently joined a small number of hospitals that have made seasonal flu shots mandatory for all workers. Some also plan to include swine flu. Several infectious-disease groups support required flu vaccination for health workers.

Federal health officials say health care workers are among the priority groups for flu shots, but the government is not ordering anyone to get shots.

In New York, Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines notes that health employees are already required to get other vaccinations, including rubella and measles shots.

Under the new flu shot law, workers can opt out only for certain health reasons, including an allergy to flu shots.

 

Associated Press.  Reprinted from the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. Approximately how many U.S. health workers skip getting yearly flu shots?

2. How has the state of New York addressed this issue?

3. Why do such a large number of health care workers choose not to get flu shots?

4. a) How does nurse Sandra Morales explain her decision not to get the flu vaccine?
b) Do you agree with her reasoning? Explain your answer.

5. Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine specialist says health workers are ethically obligated to get vaccinated for both kinds of flu. He supports making flu shots mandatory for health workers. Do you agree with his assertion? Explain your answer.

6. CHALLENGE QUESTION: New York Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines notes that health employees are already required to get other vaccinations, including rubella and measles shots. How are the rubella and measles diseases and vaccines different from the flu?

 


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Background

(Regarding the swine flu from Michael Fumento’s blog): 

  • As the outbreak develops, keep in mind that seasonal flu, according to the CDC, infects between 28 and 56 million Americans each year, hospitalizes over 100,000, and kills about 36,000. (The death figure is probably on the high side.) 
  • At this point there’s no evidence swine flu is easier to transmit than seasonal flu or that it’s more lethal. …
  • All infectious diseases strike much harder in underdeveloped countries because the people are less healthy to begin with.
  • “Swine flu” simply means it has pig RNA mixed in. There’s nothing inherent to it that would make it worse than seasonal flu. We’ve had a previous outbreak of swine flu; it killed one person.
  • True, we have no vaccine for this flu; but two years ago it turned out that the seasonal flu shot was ineffective – the equivalent of no vaccine. We’re still here.
  • No, swine flu doesn’t threaten to become “another Spanish Flu of 1918-19.” Nothing does. Check your calendar; that was 90 years ago. Since then we’ve developed things called “antibiotics” as well as antivirals and other anti-flu medicines. In all flu outbreaks, including the Spanish one, the vast majority of deaths come from secondary bacterial infections.

Resources

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The CDC focuses national attention on developing and applying disease prevention and control (especially infectious diseases), environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, prevention and education activities designed to improve the health of the people of the United States.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control flu webpage at cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

Read about the disease rubella and its vaccine at cdc.gov/Features/Rubella. and about the measles at cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/measles/vacc-in-short.htm.