Some Health Care Workers Refuse to Take Flu Shots for Religious Reasons

Unlike patients who have a choice about getting the flu shot, many health care workers didn't have a say this year.

For the first time in Rhode Island, hospital and nursing home workers were told to roll up their sleeves, and hundreds of hospitals in other states have similar policies.

"No one likes to be coerced, and there were some people who objected," says Virginia Burke, CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, which provides skilled nurses and rehabilitation workers to the state's nursing homes. "My fear when the mandate came out was we'd lose workforce. To my delight, that hasn't happened."

But more than 1,000 workers filed a petition to oppose the directive.

The episode highlights strains that have developed in the midst of one of the strongest flu seasons in years. Though the government recommends that health care facilities increase the number of workers who get vaccinated, nurses and other workers in some communities have put their jobs on the line by saying no.

Their argument: They have medical or religious reasons or doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The employers' response: They have a responsibility to protect the health of patients and co-workers who need to stay healthy.

"It's not your inalienable right to not get a vaccine if you're helping care for vulnerable patients," says Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Offit says two children who were patients at Children's Hospital several years ago couldn't get the flu shot because they were receiving cancer treatment. "They died from getting the flu at the hospital."

Depending on the severity of the flu, hundreds to thousands of people die from the illness each year.

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Janice Lloyd
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