We’re trying out a new blog segment here at Allied Travel Careers called the “Allied Health Debate.” Myself (Troy Diffenderfer) and co-writer Lenay Ruhl will break down a topic and discuss the arguments for and against it, each taking a side. We’ll then ask that you let us know your opinion on the subject. This time around, we’re discussing whether or not there should be mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers, like you! In the midst of flu season, this controversial subject has many in the industry talking. Let’s take a look at the different sides of the vaccine debate.
The Debate on Mandatory Vaccines for Healthcare Workers
In an effort to protect patients from communicable diseases, U.S. hospitals are compelling health care workers to get vaccinated against the flu and other infectious diseases. Hospitalized patients who become infected have an elevated risk of developing complications or dying. However, not all hospitals require mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers. Many in favor of vaccines for healthcare workers argue that this puts the health of not only providers in jeopardy, but also the millions of people they treat every year. On the other hand, mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers can be seen as a violation of privacy.
With that said, only about 65 percent of healthcare workers get flu vaccines every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, when workers are required to get vaccinated, the number increases to about 85 percent. Below we’ll take a look at both the arguments for and against mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers.
Why Mandatory Vaccines for Healthcare Workers Should Exist
By Troy Diffenderfer
Check out more allied health content written by Troy Diffenderfer!
· Going unvaccinated hurts patients
For healthcare professionals, the patient almost always comes first. That shouldn’t change when it comes to vaccines. There are many cases on record where illness has spread in a healthcare facility and only a fraction of the workers was vaccinated. In 1998, two patients died and 25 were sickened with flu at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The deaths occurred in the hospital’s bone marrow unit. Only 12 percent of healthcare workers in the unit at the time had been vaccinated against the flu. After the incident, the hospital would go on to create the “flu fighters” campaign. This offered vaccinations to both patients and staff. In another case, a baby died and 19 were sickened in a Canadian neonatal intensive care unit during another fatal flu outbreak. Only 15 percent of health care workers were vaccinated.
It’s incidents like these that will only increase the importance of mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers. A mandatory vaccination could decrease the number of patients who become infected. According to the Immunization Advisory Center, “Healthcare workers have an ethical responsibility to protect vulnerable patients from the serious health threat of influenza illness. Studies demonstrate that annual influenza vaccination for healthcare workers is likely to reduce illness among the patients they care for. Relying on patients being vaccinated is not enough as vulnerable people may have a poor immune response to their vaccination. or may not have been vaccinated this year.”
· You can hurt by going unvaccinated
You probably deal with patients suffering from the flu, chickenpox, and a variety of other ailments every day. Why wouldn’t you want to protect yourself from these issues too? Annual vaccination is important because influenza is unpredictable. Flu viruses are constantly changing and immunity from vaccination declines over time. If you’re sick yourself, you’re no longer able to do your job. This means that you’re no longer able to help patients. It’s also a good idea to get the vaccine so you do not pass on any diseases to friends and family. You work with sick people for a living, so you’re much more likely to carry illnesses than other people.
Mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers are designed to help not just you, but everyone around you. Getting vaccinated will ensure that you’re able to do your job without infecting others.
But, there are two sides to every story, so let’s see what Lenay has to say!
Why There Shouldn’t be Mandatory Vaccines for Healthcare Workers
By Lenay Ruhl
Check out more allied health content written by Lenay Ruhl!
· There’s no hard evidence that mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers make a difference
We’ve all heard the arguments people who don’t want to get vaccinate give. “I don’t like the side effects.” “I never get sick until after I get the flu shot.” “The shots don’t always work anyway.” “It’s against my beliefs to get vaccinated…”
Healthcare workers who refuse vaccines have the same reasoning as all the other skeptics. They should have the same opportunity to choose. According to a study cited in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health called “Should Influenza Immunization Be Mandatory for All Health Care Providers,” workers have many concerns. They include “a lack of direct evidence for the effectiveness of the vaccine; an unjustified infringement on religious customs, personal rights, or privacy of medical information; a belief in the existence of a government and/or pharmaceutical industry conspiracy; and a fear of serious personal harm.”
Hospitals require workers to get vaccinated despite their concerns. Yet, there is still little evidence that when healthcare workers are vaccinated, it will have an equal a positive impact on patients. Researchers of the above-mentioned study described the flu vaccine as an “inexact science.” They went on to say that the “guesstimates” used to construct each year’s flu shot may only be 60 percent effective. Even if immunization can decrease the risk of contracting the flu, “there are no data showing that this reduction in risk will then translate to the same degree of risk reduction for transmission of the virus from the health care provider to the patient. How can an industry-wide policy, based largely on the principle of “likelihoods” instead of evidence, be allowed to compromise fundamental human rights?”
· There are safe options other than forced vaccination
Despite a lack of scientific evidence, the most controversial part about mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers is the violation of religious rights and freedom of choice. This is why healthcare facilities should not mandate vaccinations, but pursue safer alternatives. For example, some facilities allow healthcare workers who refuse vaccines to wear surgical masks on the job. Yet, some healthcare workers are actually getting fired for refusing vaccinations. To that, Cheryl Peterson, director of nursing practice and policy for the American Nurses Association, told USA Today, “It’s one thing to encourage health care workers to get the vaccine. It’s another one to fire someone for not getting it.”
Karen Higgins, who serves as co-president of the National Nurses United, told USA Today that she won’t get a flu shot again after having a severe reaction to it. Higgins opts to wear a surgical mask or risks losing her job. “I think the hospitals need to do more to prevent the spread of flu, though,” she said. “There are many policies they can put in place that would help that don’t involve forcing people to get shots or wear masks. Put masks on people who are coughing, not the other way around.”
Mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers infringes on their personal life and their rights. Healthcare workers should always put patient safety first, but not when it puts their own safety or peace of mind on the line.
So, there you have it. Our take on the pros and cons of mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers. How do you feel about mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers? Let us know in the comments below!