Swine Flu Vaccine Debate Heats Up
Health Care Personnel Opposed to New Mandatory Vaccinations May Lose Their Job
In August, New York became the first state to require health care workers to receive vaccinations for both seasonal flu and the new H1N1 strain also known as swine flu, and as the November 30th deadline approaches the opposition has become louder.
The regulation's broad definition of Health Care Personnel is estimated to cover more than half a million people in the State; everyone from Registered Nurses in State Hospitals to volunteers in private nursing home facilities. While New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines has defended the regulation as beneficial to both patients and workers, many have rallied against it.
On September 29th as others rallied in Albany, dozens of people gathered outside Suffolk County Health Department in Hauppauge, shouting “No forced shots!” Ken Bowman, who helped organize the demonstration, explained that while it is a State regulation the spot was chosen for its symbolic significance for those who couldn’t make it to Albany. While Bowman is not a health care provider himself, he was concerned about the implications of a forced vaccination. “If these people are forced to take it, then everyone else is next,” he said. The 2009 New York state regulation is the first legislation in the United States that threatens to fire employees if they do not submit to vaccinations. In the past, vaccines have been credited with greatly reducing the presence of a number of contagious infections but they have also been controversial and have been associated by some with a number of serious side effects, including autism. “It should be encouraged, but I don’t think the government has the right to force me to put anything in my body,” said Robin, who works in a healthcare clinic and held a sign reading “No Forced Vaccine” at the Hauppauge protest. There is another rally scheduled for the same location on Saturday October 10th.
In an open letter by Dr. Daines in September the Health Commissioner explained that a fully vaccinated staff will help guard against any staff shortages if there is an outbreak. In a typical year, less than half of hospital workers receive a flu shot. Speaking directly to his critics, the letter also states, “Our overriding concern as health care workers should be the interests of our patients, not our own sensibilities about mandates.”
One reason many health care personal have objected specifically to the mandatory H1N1 vaccine is because they believe it has not been properly tested. A typical clinical trial will last years to ensure its safety. The H1N1 vaccine has been rushed and has been guaranteed legal protection by the federal government, meaning that individuals may not sue the manufacturer for any side effects caused by the vaccine. “By releasing the manufacturers from any liability and expediting the approval process, it seems like a disincentive to adequately test for safety. There is no financial incentive to make a safe vaccine, and no repercussions for making an unsafe one,” said Noreen Durfee, a registered nurse at Stony Brook Medical Center. Mrs. Durfee plans to refuse the vaccination. “I’m not willing to take an unknown risk with my unborn baby. I just don’t want to take any chances with something that has not been thoroughly tested to be safe during pregnancy,” said Durfee, who is four months pregnant.
“Employees are entitled to their opinions but we are obligated to follow state law,” said Laureen Sheprow, a media representative at Stony Brook Hospital. The first doses of the H1N1 vaccine have already begun arriving at hospitals across the state and as the November 30th deadline looms, many employees are insisting they will not submit to the H1N1 vaccine, no matter the consequence. “We won’t be guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical companies,” said one nurse at the Hauppauge rally.