By Diana J. Mason, RN, PhD, editor-in-chief emeritus

Yesterday, nurses and other health care workers from New York State went to the state capitol in Albany to protest a regulation issued by the New York State Department of Health mandating that all health care workers get vaccinated for both the seasonal flu and for the pandemic H1N1 2009 influenza by November 30th or lose their jobs. Deborah Gerhardt, RN, who was interviewed by USA Today, says she may have to lose her job because she doesn’t have confidence in the safety of the new H1N1 vaccine: “Just because the FDA approved the H1N1 vaccine ‘doesn’t mean it’s safe in my book.'”

mandatingflushotsNew York State Commissioner of Health Richard Daines, MD, disagrees, and followed up an open letter to health care workers released on September 24th with a press conference to defend the new policy. The New York State Nurses Association, which urges nurses to get vaccinated but is against mandatory vaccinations, wrote their own open letter in response.

Citing one study of health care workers during a mild flu season that showed that 23% of the workers showed evidence of having had the flu that season but that 59% of these said they didn’t have the flu that year, Daines said that his concern is that workers are carrying the virus and exposing at-risk patients without realizing it. When challenged on whether family members and other visitors represent an equally great threat to patient safety, Daines noted that some hospitals would close their doors to visitors if an infectious disease were spreading.

Should we have a choice? Does our health and safety come before that of our patients?

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For more on the ethics and safety of getting vaccinated, see these recent blog posts as well:

Nurses Express Safety Concerns About H1N1 Vaccine
Is It Ethical for a Nurse to Decline the H1N1 Vaccine?