Getting vaccinated against the flu seems like a no-brainer, especially for hospital workers who are exposed to infection on a daily basis; but when people within the medical community raise questions about the efficacy of vaccinations, perhaps it’s time to look at the issue. Here’s a look at the debate over mandatory flu shots.

The Effectiveness Question of Mandatory Flu Shots

In March 2013, a doctor wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine on health care workers was too weak to withstand legal challenges. Dr. Michael Gardam suggested that flu shots should not be made mandatory by hospitals and other healthcare facilities until a more effective vaccine could be developed.

As head of infection control at the University Health Network in Toronto, Dr. Gardam – who receives vaccinations yearly, supports the general idea of mandatory vaccinations, but not as they are currently administered. He opined that the flu vaccine today is not robust enough to survive a legal battle, and that attempting to defend today’s vaccine in a court of law would not be worth the effort.

Flu Shot Support

However, Dr. Gardam may be waging a lonely battle. Two prominent Canadian doctors spoke in favor of continuing with the flu vaccines, and the Loyola Medical Center in Chicago reports that less than 15 employees out of 8,000 chose ‘automatic termination’ over company-mandated vaccination – roughly 0.18% of the hospital’s staff. In the first year of the program, Loyola had a 99.2% compliance rate. Across the country, the vaccination rate is a healthy 63%, with Arkansas, Rhode Island and Maine implementing flu shots as part of an employment contract for hospital workers and healthcare providers.

Such policies protect patients, health care workers and the workflow of the hospital, according to Dr. Jorge Parada, who authored a study on mandatory vaccination rates at Loyola. Inoculating employees also saves money, since they will not be required to seek treatment for a virus from which they are now immune.

Opposition to Mandatory Flu Shots

Notwithstanding the overwhelming numbers, there is still resistance. Some employees balk at the prospect of their jobs being held hostage to what they consider a violation of their personal right to refuse vaccination. Others point to findings by the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons that 80% of healthcare workers opposed flu shots being made mandatory.

It is a contentious debate: around 150 of the physicians interviewed for the above study said they were willing to fire their staff if they did not comply with the vaccinations. Even as the Rhode Island legislature mandated vaccinations for hospital workers, the SEIU Healthcare Employees Union filed suit against the state, claiming there was insufficient evidence for the efficacy of flu shots, and that making mandatory flu shots a condition for employment was unfair to workers.

The Mandatory Flu Shot Impasse

Even as the Centers for Disease Control come out in favor of flu shots, some workers still refuse to budge – if not on the grounds that vaccinations are ineffective, then that they have an individual right and liberty to refuse flu vaccines, and to not have to lose their jobs over it.

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