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    Massachusetts’ nurses fight mandatory flu shots

    Mandatory flu shots are a pretty familiar occurrence throughout U.S. health systems. But nurses in Massachusetts say punishment by firing it too much and they are taking their argument to superior court.

    The Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) filed a complaint against Brigham & Women’s Hospital of Boston in Suffolk County Superior Court Sept. 22 alleging that the hospital’s proposed mandatory flu vaccination policy is illegal. Many hospital systems have flu vaccination policies already, but typically allow nurses to decline for various reasons—although they usually have to wear a surgical mask during flu season if they refuse the vaccine. This new proposal, however, would subject nurses who decline the vaccination to disciplinary action and possibly termination.

    MNA states that state law about the issue is clear, and that hospital can’t mandate that a nurse be vaccinated, only that it they be provided information and an opportunity to get vaccinated. State law also says that hospitals can’t take punitive action against nurses in non-compliance, MNA says.

    MNA says it opposes mandatory flu vaccination because many nurses have had severe reaction to the vaccine and they are only 50-60% effective against flu prevention. Additionally, MNA points out that there are so many unvaccinated visitors in the hospital that, even with staff vaccinated, there are no policies that could completely prevent the spread of the virus.

    According to Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccination (NAMV), Boston nurses aren’t the only ones fighting mandatory flu vaccines. Six protests are planned for Nov. 1 in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Texas. The organization says fighting the issue is difficult because each state determines vaccination rules differently—or not at all. California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Tennessee all have “offer laws” which means that while healthcare facilities are required to offer the flu shot, workers also have the right to decline the vaccination. Alaska, New Hampshire and Rhode Island all require annual vaccinations.

    But the group says hospital systems are the ones ultimately making the decision to mandate vaccinations, adding that hospitals face losing 2% of their Medicare/Medicaid funding with less than a 90% flu shot rate among staff.

    NAMV also says that starting in December, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will begin publishing the vaccination rates of hospital employees on its website, hospitalcompare.gov, in an effort to improve hospital transparency.

    It’s estimated that 75% of all healthcare workers were immunized during last year’s flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yet CDC’s Healthy People 2020 plan calls for 90% of all healthcare workers to receive flu vaccines annually.

    Rachael Zimlich, RN
    Ms Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and ...

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    • Dr. xrayangiodoc
      Far more American die every year from the flu than have died from Ebola. Refusing to be vaccinated is inconsistent with the provision of proper health care within a hospital. Requiring the use of surgical masks for those who refuse vaccination is not an answer. Such masks almost always end up being worn below the nostrils and are useless. Working as a health care professional is not a right, it is a privilege. Duty to the patient requires vaccination with no exceptions.