Medical workers balk at mandatory flu vaccines

By Steve Gorman
Fri Nov 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Even as they are forced to wait like everyone else for swine flu vaccines in short supply, thousands of nurses and other front-line healthcare workers are fighting mandatory flu immunization policies being put in place by some U.S. hospitals.

The H1N1 pandemic, which has killed about 3,900 Americans so far, has stoked tensions over the best way to safeguard medical caregivers and their patients from flu. Nurses unions have won some early battles against compulsory vaccination.

Most health experts and much of the public agree that medical personnel as a rule should be vaccinated. An infected nurse or technician can pass on a virus that could be deadly to a frail patient. But data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that only about 40 percent of U.S. healthcare workers ever get shots for seasonal influenza.

The question now dividing the medical community is whether it makes more sense to force health workers to get flu shots or to coax them into rolling up their sleeves voluntarily. Proponents of the mandatory route, adopted by a growing number of hospitals, say voluntary efforts largely have fallen short…

…Healthcare workers unions are challenging compulsory flu vaccine policies with some success.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics was ordered to halt its mandatory program this month after unions for nearly 5,000 employees there won two binding arbitration rulings that struck down the policy as a contract violation…

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