1199 SEIU RAISES CONCERNS ABOUT NEW DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH REGULATION REQUIRING MANDATORY FLU VACCINATIONS FOR HEALTHCARE WORKERS
(New York, NY) On August 13th, the State Hospital Review and Planning Council (SHRPC) filed emergency regulations with the State Department of Health mandating healthcare facilities to immunize all employees who provide direct patient care. The new regulation is effective immediately and essentially requires mandatory flu vaccines for all healthcare workers who have any patient contact and are employed in hospitals, diagnostic and treatment centers, certified home health agencies, long term home healthcare programs, AIDS homecare programs, licensed homecare services and hospices. The regulation does not apply to nursing homes where SHRPC has no jurisdiction.
While 1199 SEIU encourages our members to obtain a yearly flu vaccination, we have very serious concerns about the broader implications of mandatory vaccinations for our workers. The regulation currently holds only one exception to the vaccination requirement — if it is medically contraindicated for an individual, the employee must then provide documentation to that effect from a physician or nurse practitioner licensed in the State of New York.
We are very disturbed that this regulation restricts healthcare workers’ personal freedom and autonomy by not allowing employees to refuse vaccination for religious, cultural or philosophical reasons.
We are also extremely concerned about the ramifications of this requirement as a condition of employment, a pre-condition to hiring, and whether refusal or delay of any form could result in possible disciplinary action or termination.
"We feel strongly that there needs to be further examination and discussion before this regulation is implemented," said George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. "Healthcare is one of the top employers in New York and this regulation would apply to hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers all across the state. Our healthcare workers take their duties very seriously and provide the highest quality care, but mandatory vaccination as a condition of employment is an invasive step, the impact of which must be deliberated and weighed very seriously against the necessity for such an action. Part of our concern is that what should be a positive employer provided benefit can potentially turn into a punitive program. Healthcare workers on the frontlines of providing care deserve the dignity and respect of thoughtful consideration before a regulation like this can just be rushed through and put into effect."
The effectiveness of flu vaccines fluctuates in different years between 30% to 80% depending on a number of factors including vaccine availability, the number of circulating flu strains and how well the vaccine strains are matched to the strains in circulation.
Several academic journals have documented that comprehensive influenza educational programs combined with positive, innovative vaccination drives have achieved voluntary employee vaccination rates as high as 80%.
We also point out that this type of mandatory vaccination program is completely unprecedented. Neither the Center for Disease Control nor any federal agency supports mandatory flu vaccination and no other state or local government has implemented anything remotely similar. In fact, in recent years, the Joint Commission (formerly known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations or JCAHO) reviewed mandatory flu vaccination as a public policy proposal, solicited public comments, considered and rejected the idea.
Given the unknown impact on the healthcare workforce in New York and the lack of study on implementation of such a policy, we hope to continue dialogue with the State Department of Health regarding our concerns about this new regulation.