The flu season is almost upon us. In our hospital, there's been talk about requiring all employees to get a flu vaccination. The idea was floated by the Infectious Disease doctors and has received general support from the hospital staff committees. An informal poll of the doctors at our facility revealed that about two thirds of them get a flu shot every year. The CDC recommends that at least 90% of healthcare workers get vaccinated.
In order to facilitate 100% compliance, different ideas have been expressed to "encourage" acceptance of the vaccination. Among the tactics include forcing any medical worker to wear a mask at all times in the hospital if he hasn't been vaccinated, a sort of "scarlet letter" if you will to shame the employee into getting vaccinated. In the "money talks" category, some advocated a financial penalty on those who won't get the shot. Some of the more orthodox staff even recommended suspension from work until the employee gets vaccinated or perhaps even termination from his job.
A firestorm of protests erupted after these draconian measures were made public. Many called these ideas un-American or fascist. Others cited the British Medical Journal article that questioned the efficacy of flu vaccines. Some pointed out that the state allows parents to exempt their children from getting various vaccinations before entering school but the hospital won't let medical professionals decide for themselves if they want to forgo the far less proven flu vaccine. A few simply stated that they had severe egg allergies and could not get a flu shot.
Some pointed to the possible severe side effects of a vaccine. A couple of years ago, at the height of the H1N1 swine flu panic, people couldn't get the flu vaccine fast enough. We had workers going to different departments of the hospital to make it easier for the employees to get their swine flu vaccine. The H1N1 pandemic never materialized to the extent that was drummed into the public. However the adverse effects of the vaccine are real. One of our surgeons, after getting the H1N1 vaccine, developed a Guillain-Barre type of illness. He suffered profound weakness and had to be admitted to the ICU. He was almost intubated due to poor respiratory effort. He was out of work for months while he received physical therapy to regain his strength. Luckily, after a long recuperation, he is back at work and doing an excellent job.
So should healthcare workers be forced to get the flu vaccine? How many vaccination injuries are acceptable in order to protect the public at large? Have doctors lost control of their own bodies, a natural extension of our loss of autonomy from government meddling in our professional lives? Our hospital is still debating the issues.