A northern Indiana hospital has fired eight employees, many of them veteran nurses, who refused to get flu vaccinations under a new policy in place to protect patients from influenza, a potentially deadly illness.
This has sparked debates nationwide over whether such shots should be required and whether religious or other objections should outweigh the argument in favor of vaccinating healthcare workers.
IU Health Goshen Hospital officials did tell employees in early September that flu shots would be mandatory for staff, affiliated physicians, volunteers and vendors who regularly work in the hospital.
26 people asked to not get vaccinated for religious reasons. A committee allowed only 11 of those people to continue working without getting the flu shot.
The hospital said each religious appeal was reviewed according to Equal Opportunity Employment Guidelines.
At least four of the nurses who were terminated tried to appeal the vaccine on religious grounds with the help of a lawyer. The hospital rejected their arguments, firing them anyway.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said that health and safety of the patients is a top priority. She stated that the hospital was following guidelines from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association, which both recommend mandatory vaccinations for employees.
‘As a hospital and health system, our priority is and should be patient safety and we know that hospitalized people with compromised immune systems are at a greater risk for illness and death from the flu,’ hospital spokeswoman Melanie McDonald told the newspaper.
‘The flu has the highest death rate of any vaccine-preventable disease and it would be irresponsible from our perspective for health care providers to ignore that.’
The nurses, though, say the mandate contradicts their own deeply held religious beliefs.
“I feel like in my personal faith walk, I have felt instructed not to get a flu vaccine, but it’s also the whole matter of the right to choose what I put in my body and what I feel G-d wants me to put in vs. someone mandating what I put in,” Joyce Gingerich told the Truth newspaper. She says that her reasons for refusing the vaccine are, “biblical, that they are G-d led and they’re who I am.”
Gingerich, an oncology nurse who worked in the hospital in Goshen for 25 years, said she didn’t want to leave her patients or her job, but she said she couldn’t compromise her religious beliefs.
Sue Schrock, a hospice nurse, said she has not had a flu vaccine for 30 years as a result of a choice she made because of her Christian faith.
She said compromising that position was unthinkable. She is one of the employees who filed an appeal, asking not to get the shot for religious reasons, as reported by South Bend TV station WSBT.
“I just feel like it’s a toxin that I don’t want in my body,” she told the station. “There are side effects with that. There are no guarantees that it’s even going to protect you.”
Spokeswoman McDonald said that, “If it were religious beliefs as defined by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, they would not have been terminated.” She further stated, “Sometimes there can be a little bit of gray area and people who have very personally held beliefs will present those as religious opportunities for exemption.”
Dr. Jeffrey Galles runs Utica Park Clinic for Hillcrest Healthcare System in Tulsa. He tells KRMG the religious objection won’t fly with most employers.
“Within most healthcare systems, if they are mandating that the influenza vaccine be given, a religious exclusion would not be considered acceptable.”
He says that the safety and most importantly the effectiveness of the flu vaccine has been clinically proven.
“I can tell you that within Utica Park Clinic, over 90 percent of our employees that have direct patient care receive the flu vaccine and those that don’t generally have some sort of a medical exclusion; meaning they’ve had a reaction to the flu vaccine or they’re intolerant to the flu vaccine,” a factor that’s very rare in the general population. He believes that there is good reason for the policy requiring flu shots. “People are contagious before they develop symptoms. So a person can be truly infected with influenza, have no symptoms for 24-48 hours, but be able to transmit the virus.
That’s especially dangerous, of course, in an environment full of people already suffering a wide variety of medical conditions, many with compromised immune systems.
“Influenza is one of the most communicable diseases we see,” Dr. Galles told KRMG. “The last thing we need is for infected staff to be exposing influenza virus to patients who are at risk.”
It is understandable that healthcare workers in close contact with very ill patients can spread influenza, as well as other germs, which can be dangerous, even deadly. Maybe the nurses who refuse the flu shots can be transferred to an area in the hospital where they wouldn’t pose a danger to any patients? However, do you think they should be fired for refusing to put “toxins” in their body or have religious beliefs that are opposed to this?
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