Health and Fitness

Largest National Nurses Union Opposes Mandatory Flu Vaccination as Condition of Employment

Nurses also call for Pharma representatives to step down from federal vaccine board and include a direct-care RN
CALIFORNIA–(ENEWSPF)–February 9, 2012.  Hospital-based registered nurses, who are members of National Nurses United, will make a statement before the Health and Human Services National Vaccine Advisory Committee in a public forum on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.  NNU, with 170,000 RN members, is the largest professional association and union of direct-care registered nurses in the United States, with more than 95 percent of the nurses working in acute-care hospitals.
NNU RNs will speak in opposition to NVAC’s Recommendation #4, “Healthy People 2020”, which mandates that all healthcare providers receive a flu vaccination as a condition of employment.  NNU joins the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, and other major healthcare unions and organizations, who say there is insufficient evidence for the federal government to promote mandatory influenza vaccination programs that might result in employment termination.
What: National Vaccine Advisory Committee Public Hearing on Mandatory Flu Vaccine Policy
When: Tuesday, 9:00 a.m.
Where: Hubert H Humphrey Building, 200 Independence Avenue SW, Room 800, Washington, D.C. 20201
NNU is also calling on the pharmaceutical representatives from Pfizer and Novartis, who are members of the NVAC, to recuse themselves from any votes that take place on the issue of the mandatory flu vaccine. The companies stand to make millions of dollars from flu vaccine sales. There are no nurses currently on the NVAC board.
“It is unfortunate that for-profit pharmaceutical companies were consulted in this matter yet the voices of the nation’s direct-care hospital RNs have gone unheard,” said NNU co-president Karen Higgins, RN. “Nurses are calling for an open process to explore the best way to protect patients and healthcare workers, not one that is driven by corporate profits.”
NNU maintains the position that every RN should be vaccinated against the flu, but cautions against placing an over-reliance upon vaccination as a means to fully stem transmission. Doing so could put RNs, other healthcare workers, and patients at an increased risk of infection. Issues such as vaccination supply and efficacy make it such that the vaccine cannot be relied upon to exclusively provide adequate protection from the flu virus.

“I work at a hospital that currently has a seasonal flu mandatory vaccine policy, and I know from experience that this kind of punitive policy only fosters resentment on the part of the bed-side caregivers and is only 59 percent effective,” said Rajini Raj, an RN who works at Washington Hospital Center in the medical cardiology unit, and who will be speaking against the mandatory requirement on behalf of NNU.
“RNs care deeply about health policies regarding the transmission of the influenza virus in  health care settings, but believe that comprehensive employer-sponsored voluntary vaccination programs can be effective only if extensive education is provided on the risks and benefits of vaccination, the vaccines are conveniently accessible to employees, and the program includes protective measures such as the provision of safe and appropriate respiratory and personal protection equipment, hygienic improvements, and thoughtful isolation procedures.”
“The proposed policy of mandatory vaccination coerces employees into accepting the vaccine, or risk being punished, retaliated against, and, in some cases, fired by their employer,” said Deidre Beckford, RN who also works at Washington Hospital Center.   “This is not the way to protect public health.”
Additionally, requiring health care workers who decline vaccination to wear a surgical mask will not properly stem the transmission of influenza. An abundance of research has shown that surgical masks do not effectively protect healthcare workers or patients from airborne transmission of disease.
Mandatory flu vaccination programs engender distrust and resistance among employees; offer a disincentive to providing vaccination education to employees, and raise ethical and legal questions about the personal employment rights of employees.