Mandatory influenza vaccinations for health care workers — who really benefits from this draconian measure? While public health officials tell you that mandatory flu shots for all health care workers will protect patients from influenza, there's virtually no good scientific evidence to support such claims.
If health and safety were really the chief aim of this forced vaccination policy, why not mandate vitamin D testing and optimization, since vitamin D supplementation has been shown to be 10 times more effective than getting a flu shot if you are vitamin D deficient?1,2
Even if you're not deficient in vitamin D, studies evaluating the "number needed to treat" (NNT) reveal it is estimated that one person would be spared from getting sick with influenza for every 33 people taking a vitamin D supplement (NNT = 33), whereas 40 people would have to receive the flu vaccine in order to prevent a single case of the flu (NNT = 40).3
But, what would the financial incentive be for that? Unfortunately, it appears mandating annual flu shots for health care workers is little more than a for-profit scheme transformed into oppressive health policy and law by drug industry insiders and powerful lobbyists.
Health Care Personnel Fired for Vaccine Refusal
Over the past few years, a number of health care workers have been threatened and gotten the boot for refusing to get an annual flu shot; most recently, just before Thanksgiving, Duluth-based Essentia Health — a company founded in 2003 that owns and operates 15 hospitals and 75 medical clinics located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Idaho — added their name to the list.
In addition to owning hospitals and clinics, the company also owns and operates fitness and therapy centers, rehabilitation centers, long term care facilities, assisted/independent living facilities, medical equipment and supply centers and pharmacies.4 They made headlines when it was first reported that they had fired some 50 employees who refused to get an annual flu shot.5,6,7 A few days later The BMJ reported that a total of Essentia Health 69 employees had been let go.8
Hundreds more workers were warned their jobs were in jeopardy unless they get the flu shot. Minnesota employees were particularly disturbed by the requirement, as state law does not mandate influenza vaccinations for health care workers. Still, Essentia decided to extend the mandate to its Minnesota workers, as well.
According to Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, Essentia's chief patient safety officer, the 69 workers were fired because they refused vaccination and did not meet Essentia's strict criteria qualifications for either a medical or religious vaccine exemption.9
The problem is the medical exemption defined by federal public health officials is so narrow that more than 99 percent of people do not qualify for it. A personal history of many autoimmune and neurological disorders — or even serious reactions to previous vaccinations — are not considered contraindications to vaccination according to federal health officials, and often those government guidelines are the ones used by companies like Essentia to deny medical exemptions to vaccination.
Scot Harvey, a night and weekend administrator at an Essentia hospital in Duluth said he refused the flu vaccine because he had suffered severe fatigue and other symptoms after receiving government-mandated vaccines during his military service. His vaccine exemption request was denied by company officials, and he became one of the 69 employees fired for vaccine refusal. Harvey spoke out in an article in the Star Tribune:10
"Harvey said … the form limited exemptions to medically documented vaccine allergies or histories of Guillain-Barre Syndrome following vaccinations … A registered nurse, Harvey said his stance might make it harder to find work. But he felt it was an issue of free choice. 'If nobody stands up and says, 'Hey, this isn't right,'' he said, 'then next year everybody in health care is going to have to have a flu shot, and then everybody in every job is going to have to have a flu shot.'"
Workers' Unions Object to Mandatory Vaccination Requirement
In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Harvey added, "I don't see how an employer can have the right to decide what I have to do to my body in order to keep a job."11 Surgical technologist Paula Bullyan, who has worked for more than 15 years for a Duluth hospital now owned by Essentia, expressed a similar sentiment. She said that whether or not to receive the flu vaccine is "my choice, and they're taking away my choice, to either receive or to take an injection into my body that I do not want."12
Jen Hutzell, a cleaner and care aide at the Oak Crossing long-term care facility in Detroit Lakes owned by Essentia, told the Star Tribune she sought a vaccine exemption based on previous experience with the flu vaccine. The Star Tribune reported: 13 "Hutzell said the only year she suffered flu-like illnesses was 1995 — the one year she received a flu shot in order to be around her newborn son, who was born prematurely and needed intensive care. 'That was the sickest year of my life,' she said."
Several workers' unions have objected to the policy. The Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA) and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees have filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, and MNA has announced its intent to file grievances on behalf of fired nurses. According to the article featured in the Star Tribune:14
"As many as 400 doctors, nurses or other workers hadn't been vaccinated as of Nov[ember] 15, when Essentia reported 97 percent compliance among its 15,000 employees. But many of those holdouts got shots or filed exemptions before the company's Nov[ember] 20 deadline. Prabhu said 99 percent of Essentia's workers have now complied …"