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Oct 5 09 Debate Rages over Mandated Flu Shots: MA story

While health care workers in New York chant "give me liberty" to protest state-mandated seasonal and swine flu shots – at the risk of being fired — Massachusetts is requiring health care facilities to offer voluntary vaccinations.

But facilities such as the Lahey Clinic are pushing for 100 percent of their employees to voluntarily get the shots.  

"We’re pushing it for two reasons," said Dr. Robert Duncan, infectious disease specialist at Lahey.

"One, is we’re trying to gain on past success in terms of how many people we vaccinate. But also, there’s more flu around this year that people are worried about."

The shots are being mandated at the 273 facilities of the Hospital Corp. of America. That includes Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire.

"We want to make sure we’re protecting our employees and, most importantly, protecting our patients," a hospital spokeswoman said.

While the Massachusetts Nurses Association strongly encourages its members to get the shots, it opposes mandates.

"This is the first time we’re seeing nurses and other health care workers considered the source of the flu," said Evie Bain, a registered nurse who is the union’s health and safety coordinator.

"In the past, it’s often the nurses get the flu taking care of their patients, not that they give the flu to their patients."

Medical ethicist and Boston University Professor George Annas says New York’s mandate could backfire by energizing opposition.

"The public will reasonably ask: If physicians and nurses won’t voluntarily take the swine flu vaccine, why should I?," Annas has written.

"But there are many people who argue that it’s an ethical responsibility of a health care worker to get a flu shot and protect everybody they come in contact with," Dr. Duncan said.

While there may be strong disagreement about whether flu shots for health care workers should be mandated, there’s wide agreement in the medical community that it’s a good idea for everyone to get the shots voluntarily.

The University of Pennsylvania Hospital, University of Maryland Hospital, Emory Hospital in Atlanta and Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago are also requiring employees to get flu shots.
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