Personally, I don't get flu shots. But if you want to, that's totally fine by me.
I was a bit miffed however, by a recent conversation with a woman who works as a nutritionist at a large university in Los Angeles. A holistic-minded mom with two young children, she had no interest in getting a vaccine against the flu, but mandatory flu shots are part of the job.
Or… she could walk around campus with a hospital mask for the duration of flu season.
In her opinion, mandatory flu shots are frankly “un-American,” which got me thinking. Is it a violation of our constitutional rights to require vaccines or are they necessary for public safety?
Why are employers instituting mandatory flu shots?
There are some truly decent reasons why many people decline flu shots. If you're on the fence, or haven't thought much about it, be sure to read my post: Should I Get a Flu Shot? 5 Reasons Why Not.
Anti-vaccine extremists will argue that mandatory flu shots are Big Pharma's way of getting more money. While I'm certainly not a fan of putting more cash into the pockets of pharmaceutical companies, in this case I think the financial gains are only part of the picture.
The main rationale behind mandatory flu shots is that healthcare workers and others in ‘people jobs' should get the vaccine in order to keep from spreading it to higher-risk people.
This seems smart and even valiant, but unfortunately there is decent evidence that flu shots are largely ineffective and sometimes dangerous. In fact, one meta study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that vaccine doesn't reduce the incidence of flu in healthcare facilities as much as previously thought.
“We simply don't have good evidence that vaccination of healthcare personnel prevents influenza transmission to patients,” said Nick Kelley, PhD, research associate for the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. (source)
From Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines (NAMV), “There is no study and there has never been a shown or proven instance of any unvaccinated healthcare worker giving a patient any disease. This idea is an absolute myth.” (source)
Well, there goes that good reason out the window.
What's more is that mandated vaccines may have to do with the money afterall: Most hospital systems are REQUIRED to have a 90% or higher flu shot reception rate among their staff, or they lose up to 2% of their funding of Medicare/Medicaid (source).
Are mandatory flu shots legal?
By far, the most common instance of mandatory flu shots is among healthcare workers, but mandatory flu shots are beginning to spread to many other industries as well, ranging from food service, education, community and social services to personal care, cleaning and maintenance, and even real estate (source).
Whether or not mandatory flu shots are legal depends on the circumstances of your employment. Most people are employed under what is called “at will” employment, which means they can be fired at any time without just cause. Exceptions to this are if you have an employment contract or if you are a member of a union. In those cases, it may very well be illegal for an employer to punish you for refusing a mandatory flu shot.
Another area in which it might be considered illegal is under anti-discrimination laws, especially if it is your religious beliefs that prevent you from getting a vaccine (source).
Refusing mandatory flu shots comes with major repercussions
If you are going to refuse a vaccine required by your employer, be prepared for the fallout.
In the healthcare setting, it’s pretty common that for those who refuse mandatory flu shots, to be required to wear a facemask. It may not seem like a big deal, but it can end being as stigmatizing as the wearing of the scarlet letter.
Here’s an anonymous post from the Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines (NAMV) Facebook page that gives you an idea of what can happen:
Day 1 of wearing a mask for declining the flu vaccine and I've already been harassed by multiple co-workers. I was nearly in tears. I do plan on speaking with HR about this. How do you handle people's negative comments? I already believe it’s a violation of my HIPAA rights so I don't feel that I should have to explain myself…They just can't leave it at that and I can't exactly walk away! Help!
NAMV is not anti-vaccine, but believes that healthcare workers should maintain the right to make their own informed choice about vaccines. They state that requiring medical treatment is a “human rights violation, is a violation of the Patient Bill of Rights, and is a huge EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) violation.” (source)
If mandatory flu shots are not the answer, what is?
If you don't have a job around immunocompromised folks, mandatory flu shots have no logical grounds to exist other than the wish for workplace productivity.
When it comes to protecting the immunocompromised – babies in the NICU, cancer and HIV patients, folks recovering from major surgery – I think this topic brings up a much more valuable discussions.
If my child or I was in the hospital with a compromised immune system, I want to be able to trust that every healthcare worker has done their due diligence to make sure they're showing up to work healthy.
I get it. Sometimes it's easier to go to work a little under the weather, rather than take a sick day, vacation day or miss out on pay. Instead of mandating flu shots, employers should be enforcing policies around coming to work sick, and reducing penalties for staying home.
If you're a nurse or other health care worker around patients for whom the flu could be fatal, it's part of your ethical responsibility to do everything you can to prevent transmitting the flu and other diseases to your vulnerable patients. So whether or not you get a flu shot, it is essential to guard and fortify your health with the right foods, supplements, and lifestyle choices.
And by all means, if you're feeling even a little sick: STAY HOME.
What's the bigger problem with mandatory flu shots?
Demanding that another person be compelled to allow their bodily integrity to be breached in order to “protect” an unhealthy person, is unethical.
Some believe that if society allows mandatory flu vaccines to stand we may fast find ourselves in a haunting dystopian future where compulsory blood donations, fertility manipulation, and organ donations are no longer our American freedom.
For more on this topic, check out my friend Kelly the kitchen Kop's post: How to avoid the flu shot and not get fired.
What do you think?
Are mandatory vaccines un-American?
Why or why not?