Monday, October 12, 2009

Nothing to Sneeze At

There’s a group of nurses and other health care workers here in Syracuse NY who are protesting the fact that state law requires them to get the flu shot this year. They say that it violates their personal rights, and that it’s not fair for them to be forced to get the flu shot or lose their jobs.

I say, “You have got to be kidding!”

I could understand if these were auto mechanics, teachers, hairdressers, pastors, lawyers or people in a host of other jobs and professions we were talking about. There is absolutely no reason to require any of these people to get flu shots. Threatening them with the loss of their jobs if they didn’t get one would be stupid, totally unfair, and a violation of their rights. But hearing that complaint from nurses and other health care workers just rings hollow with me.

Because they’re health care workers, for Pete’s sake. These are people who will be around some of the sickest people there are and people with some of the most compromised immune systems. These are the people most likely to get it from one patient and give it to another, or to bring it home to their loved ones. These are the very people we need to keep healthy in order to take care of the rest of us. It’s just common sense that they should get it. We shouldn’t need a law to force them, but sadly, for some of them, we do.

Yes, I suppose you have the right to refuse to get a flu shot. And if you want to exercise that right, then you need to be in a field other than health care. Because as a patient, I have a right to expect that the people who will be attending to me have taken every reasonable precaution to stay healthy.

And these health care workers really should know better! They should understand how diseases travel and the importance of prevention. They say, “But I never get sick,” or “the last time I got a flu shot, it made me sick.” The “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918 killed more people in two years (at least 50 million) than AIDS has in 28 (25 million). It also unusual in that it killed healthy young adults rather than children, the elderly, or otherwise weakened patients. With that in mind, these people who “never get sick” are precisely the people who need to get the flu shot. And the sickness that they experienced after their flu shot was probably nothing like what the full-blown flu would have been like.

It’s funny though. What do these health care workers think of the laws that say that their children can’t go to school unless they’ve been properly vaccinated for a host of diseases? Do these laws violate their children’s right to an education, or do they understand the wisdom in these laws? You can’t even go to college now without a complete vaccination record.

It’s like this. Most people could understand getting the flu from a coworker or another patient in the doctor’s office, but if they found out that they got it from one of the nurses – who had chosen not gotten the vaccine – they would not be very understanding, and would have every right to bring a lawsuit.

And that is nothing to sneeze at.

For the record, I got my flu shot, as has everyone else in my family. Especially my wife, the nurse.

1 comment:

  1. Our military health care team keeps encouraging us to bring our kids (and ourselves) in for a flu shot and then tells us they are out of flu vaccine and we have to call routinely to see if it is in yet. My husband at the MFing Pentagon also can't get it at his clinic. The PENTAGON. It stuns me that a health care plan that caters to a disproportionate amount of children (from young and seemingly hyper-fertile soldiers) and seniors (at least 1/2 the people I see at the clinics are military retirees and their spouses) might put priority on ordering enough vaccine for their vulnerable populations. And if the headquarters of the military could be taken out by seasonal flu that seems like a problem as well. Frankly, I am with you on the issue of health care folks getting the shot. I'm sure cheryl would confirm that anyone in the hospital is discouraged from having sick visitors, imagine the effect of one "visitor" who is visiting dozens of patients a week!

    Is anyone able to get H1N1 vaccine? Like, in reality? Or are the shortages too vast?