Resisting swine flu shot;
Nurses join others to protest mandated vaccine;
Many cite lack of tests for H1N1 safety issues
BYLINE: BY DELTHIA RICKS
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. A06
LENGTH: 811 words
Dozens of Long Island nurses – many from Stony Brook University Medical Center – plan to rally with health care workers from across the state next week in Albany to protest a state regulation that mandates they be vaccinated for swine flu or lose their jobs.
The New York State Department of Health issued an emergency regulation in August that requires all health care workers in hospitals, public health clinics, hospices and in home health care be immunized against seasonal and swine flu. But it is the mandated swine flu shot that has angered the workers, who claim the vaccine has not been fully tested.
The New York State Nurses Association, which represents 37,000 nurses, supports opposition to mandatory vaccination.
"We as an organization have not questioned the safety of the vaccine," said Nancy Webber, spokeswoman for the association. "We see this as an issue of workers’ rights."
The Public Employees Federation, which represents 9,000 nurses statewide and 3,000 health care workers – nurses and others – at Stony Brook alone, agrees with the nurses’ group.
Nurses say they were never consulted before officials wrote the regulation.
"This vaccine has not been clinically tested to the same degree as the regular flu vaccine," said Tara Accavallo, a registered nurse in Stony Brook’s neonatal intensive care unit, the division that has produced a number of protesters. "If something happens to me, if I get seriously injured from this vaccine, who’s going to help me?"
Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as infectious disease specialists on Long Island say the H1N1 vaccine, which is set to be released early next month, is safe and produces a powerful immune response.
The deadline to comply is Nov. 30, a date so close it leaves little time for legal maneuvers to skirt the law, but Accavallo says she’s willing to lose her job if need be.
Rob Kozik, another registered nurse in Stony Brook’s neonatal intensive care unit, said he has no problems with a seasonal vaccine but he has deep concerns about being immunized against H1N1. "I usually get vaccinated against the flu, but they are mandating an untested and unproven vaccine.
"The H1N1 vaccine already has a poor track record," he added. "Back in 1976 there was vaccine [to protect against swine flu] that caused death and Guillain-Barre syndrome," said Kozik, referring to a nerve-damaging disorder that some people linked to the vaccine. He said he also worries about the vaccine additive thimerosal, which is used as a preservative in some doses of the vaccine.
Stony Brook has begun "a major communication initiative" to inform its staff about the need for the vaccine, said Lauren Sheprow, hospital spokeswoman.
"We feel some of the anxiety may stem from confusion and lack of information about the nature of the H1N1 vaccine," she said.
Dr. Steven Walerstein, medical director of Nassau University Medical Center, said his institution’s flu campaign began late last week. More than 900 people were eligible for vaccination in the first phase, and 890 were vaccinated, he said. About an additional 25 workers who refused without explanation are "being referred to human resources and counseling," Walerstein said. If there is not a good reason for their refusal, health care providers can lose their jobs.
WHO GETS PRIORITY
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of priority groups for H1N1 swine flu vaccinations. The choice of priority groups was based on several factors. For example, people considered most vulnerable to catching the flu because of repeated exposure was one criterion. Also, those who are most likely to suffer complications and die of the infection was another.
1. Health care providers
2. Emergency services personnel
3. Pregnant women
4. Parents of newborns (because babies can’t be vaccinated)
5. Children and young adults between the ages of 6 months and 24 years
6. People 25-64 with medical problems.
Some are suspicious of the new vaccine because the government’s swine flu vaccine in 1976 caused some people to contract Guillain-Barré syndrome, a sometimes deadly nervous-system disorder. (They are different vaccines based on two different viruses).
Others see this as an issue of workers’ rights, that the government should not be allowed to require vaccinations.
SHUNNING THE VACCINE
Several groups are opposed to vaccination of any kind, often citing philosophical reasons. Here is a look at some of the vaccine objectors.
Some health care workers are opposed to mandatory vaccination, but not to all vaccines.
Parents of children with autism spectrum disorders have long objected to vaccinations, based on the widely disputed notion that autism-related conditions are caused by vaccines and vaccine additives.
People with allergies to eggs oppose flu shots because eggs are used in vaccine production