Sarah Peterson, a mental health specialist, didn’t want a flu shot and didn’t want to wear a mask. Her employer, Kootenai Health, said she needed to pick one of those options as a condition of continued employment.
She declined and resigned, saying: “They have every right to make it mandatory, and I have every right to stay or quit.”
Two other Kootenai Health workers also quit for the same reason. This is precisely the way it should be, but some health care workers and their unions don’t see it that way. They want their employers to loosen their public health mandates.
Some say the mask requirement is an act of coercion to get workers to accept vaccination. In fact, in many settings it is a compromise offered for those who fear vaccinations for reasons that fly in the face of medical research. Some nurses also contend the mask isn’t very effective, which is all the more reason to require vaccinations for workers in health care settings.
Many medical centers are dropping the mask option for this reason. Walt Fairfax, chief medical officer, would like for Kootenai Health to eventually do the same. Currently, 94 percent of Kootenai Health’s workers are vaccinated and the rest wear masks.
This pushback against vaccinations is occurring nationwide at a time when flu season is at its peak. Health care workers will see patients with the flu, and are at risk of catching it themselves or passing it along. While no vaccination is foolproof – the current concoction is effective 60 percent of the time – it’s reasonable for medical centers to lower the risk by mandating inoculation.
Some of the arguments against vaccinations call into question why resistant workers went into the medical field in the first place. If nurses and other workers can’t trust the safety and effectiveness of flu vaccines, or if their religion poses a barrier to preventative measures, then health care is the wrong career.
National Nurses United, the largest nurses union, recommends that every registered nurse get inoculated against the flu, but it is against a mandate to do so. For them, employee rights trump the concerns of employers. Besides, they say, it’s counterproductive to fire trained workers when their services are in demand.
But this is mere spin to make it seem like the patients come first. If that were the case, reluctant workers would get inoculated to help control the spread of a sometimes fatal flu. That is the intent of the mandate, and it puts public interest first. Unions say the mandate offers a false sense of public health security, but asserting worker rights offers no health benefit.
Are nurses willing to accept liabilty if one of their patients contracts the flu?
The phrase, “First, do no harm,” has been a fundamental of medicine for centuries, and for a reason. Patient well-being is the paramount duty of health care workers. If that’s unacceptable, then follow the path of Sarah Peterson, who realized she had to move on.
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