Mandatory Flu Vaccines for Health Care Workers
We've recently run a spate of articles about doctors burning out and leaving the profession. Here's yet one more reason some physicians may hang up the stethoscope for good. It seems that hospitals across the nation are requiring staff to get flu shots, and those who refuse the mandatory vaccinations get fired.1
The issue came to light after 1000 health-care workers in Rhode Island signed a petition objecting to the mandatory vaccinations policy. A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that more than 400 hospitals in the US require their hospital staff to get flu vaccines as a condition of employment. In 2011, 29 hospitals fired workers who refused to get vaccinated. While in most states, individual hospitals set their own vaccination policy, four states currently have legislation on the books requiring all health care workers to get the shots no matter what facility they work in, and more states are looking at passing such laws.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about only 63 percent of all US health care workers and hospital staff have received the latest flu vaccine, compared to about 40 percent of the public.2 To be sure, most of the unvaccinated personnel are from the lower echelons of the medical world--nursing assistants and aides, technicians, and so forth. The overwhelming majority of doctors (84 percent) and nurses (82 percent) have received the latest vaccine. While these percentages indicate that most doctors must think getting the vaccine is a good idea, it's worth noting that a notable 16 percent have chosen not to get it--and, when you think about it, 16 percent represents an eyebrow-raising constituency given the CDC's unwavering endorsement of flu shots for all.
The CDC has set a goal to vaccinate at least 90 percent of all health care workers by 2020, and most in the medical establishment support that objective.
"It's not your inalienable right to not get a vaccine if you're helping care for vulnerable patients,'' says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Likewise, the chief of medical ethics at NYU's Langone Medical Center, Dr. Art Caplan, says, "If you don't want to do it [get the flu shot], you shouldn't work in that [medical] environment. Patients should demand that their health care provider gets flu shots - and they should ask them."
Such sentiment assumes, of course, that the flu vaccine actually prevents the flu. If the flu shot actually provided unfailing and safe protection against the flu without any risk, it would, in fact, be a good idea for all workers to get the shot so that patients wouldn't get infected while under care. But as we've written so often in this blog, the effectiveness of the vaccine is a hit-or-miss, year-by-year crapshoot. Scientists formulate the vaccine almost an entire year before flu season hits, based on the strain of flu common at that time. Typically, by the time the flu season rolls around, new strains of the virus have appeared, rendering the vaccine useless.
This year, the experts croon that the vaccine is highly effective, but in reality, they're finding that it works only 62 percent of the time--and that estimate comes from its biggest supporter, the CDC.3 That means, at best, a 38 percent failure rate. And by flu-vaccine standards, that's actually pretty good. According to an exhaustive study published last October by the Minnesota Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance, in a typical good year, the vaccine is only 59 percent effective.4 Says the study director, Michael Osterholm, "There is a sense that a 59% match is better than zero, but we wouldn't accept this with a disease like measles, which we seem to take more seriously."
The Minnesota study examined over 12,000 other studies and transcripts dating back to 1936. Amazingly (but not necessarily so to readers of this blog), in some years, effectiveness hovers closer to zero--and that's zero, as in zilch. Plus, says the Minnesota report, there "is inconsistent evidence of protection in children age 2 to 17 years, and a paucity of evidence for protection in adults 65 years of age and older." Given that senior citizens in particular get blasted with "get the flu shot or die" propaganda, that's a rather shocking finding.
In spite of the questionable worth of the vaccine, it still might be useful for health care workers to get the shot (but with fingers crossed that it would work), if only it had no side effects. But as we've written before, the vaccine can trigger problems large and small, including pain at the injection site, fever, aches, severe headaches, Guillain-Barr Syndrome in rare cases (which causes paralysis), and allergic reactions resulting in death. The vaccine includes ingredients like formaldehyde and the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. Many health-conscious individuals simply don't want such toxins shot into them no matter how many safety assurances they get from the medical community. Remember, this is the same community that promoted the safety of cigarettes and trans fats…until they didn't.
And so, all things considered, demanding that all health care workers get vaccinated seems punishing at best. Any doctor competent enough to read the research and weigh risks versus benefits may well come to the conclusion that the establishment's love affair with flu vaccines is based more on hype rather than fact. After all, many nations in the developed world do not agree that everyone should get flu shots; it's only the US and Canada that advocate shots for all.5 In Europe, which many Americans consider the home of the nanny-state and socialism, flu shots are neither mandatory nor recommended for the population at large. Even the conservative World Health Organization endorses the shot only for at-risk populations--and it does not recommend mandatory vaccines for anyone. Imagine that!
The bottom line is that there are good alternatives to flu shots, starting with wearing surgical masks to prevent the spread of disease and not pressuring people to come to work when they're sick. And then there are effective and safe natural antivirals and immune builders, and other approaches that effectively protect against the flu. Health care workers would do well to familiarize themselves with these other options so that they can respond to the lawmakers who insist that vaccinations are the only answer.
- 1. Hospitals Crack Down on Workers Refusing Flu Shots." 17 January 2013. WTRF.com. 17 January 2013. http://www.wtrf.com/story/20616012/hospitals-crack-down-on-workersrrefusing-flu-shots
- 2. Lloyd, Janice. "Mandatory flu shots opposed by some health care workers. 16 January 2013. USA Today. 17 January 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/16/mandatory-flu-shot-nurses/1832813
- 3. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "Early Estimates of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness--United States, January 2013." CDC MMWR. Early Release/Vol 62 January 11, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm62e0111.pdf
- 4. Michael T. Osterholm, Nicholas S. Kelley, Jill M. Manske, et al. "The Compelling Need for Game-Changing Influenza Vaccines." CIDRAP October 2012. (Accessed 18 Jan 2013.) http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/files/80/ccivi%20report.pdf
- 5. Christensen, Jen. "Flu vaccine attitudes abroad differ from U.S." 17 January 2013. CNN Health. 18 January 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/17/health/flu-vaccine-policy/?hpt=he_c1