Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Get Shot or Get Fired

TriHealth, a health care organization in Cincinatti operating two hospitals and providing services at more than 80 locations, handed out pink slips to 150 employees the day before Thanksgiving. The employees were fired for failing to get a flu shot. TriHealth required all of its 10,800 employees to get the shot by Nov. 16, which it provided for free.

Requiring flu shots for the protection of patients is a growing trend in the health care industry. On average 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year. Of those cases an average of 200,000 hospitalizations and 24,000 deaths occur each year. It is estimated that 90% of the deaths are of people 65 and older. The very old, the very young and those with compromised immune systems due to other illnesses are most at risk.

The knee jerk reaction of many is that the employees should have simply gotten the shot. However, even medical professionals disagree about the safety of flu vaccines, so should these employees be required to get the vaccine or be fired if they don't?

No vaccine is 100% safe and serious side effects can result. The CDC maintains that while the risks of side effects are real, the incidence rates are very low. If you are one of the people that suffers a side-effect after being required to receive a shot in order to keep your job, do you really care about the odds? And are the rates of side-effects fully known? The system for doctors to report adverse reactions is voluntary, so even if patients report problems, will that data reach the CDC?

Each year the flu vaccine is just a 'best guess' as to which strains are coming around, and those guesses are not always correct. There are more than 250 strains and only 3 are included in the vaccine. Folks who are anti-flu shot do not believe the benefit of guesswork outweighs the risks. Furthermore, vaccines contain mercury, formaldehyde and a variety of other chemicals, that many in the medical profession believe contribute to subsequent diseases such as ALS, MS, Alzheimer's, autism, and possibly even cancer. There is also an increased risk of contracting GBS (Guillain-Barre syndrome).

This is a difficult question and not one which is easy to answer. If flu shots were 100% effective, even with the risk of side effects, I'd be more likely to argue that yes, these employees should roll up their sleeves and get the shot. After all, many of their patients are likely to be in the higher risk categories. On the other hand  the efficacy rate of flu shots falls somewhere between 59% and 73% for people between the ages of 18 and 65. In 2011, 52% of children and 39% of adults were immunized, and keep in mind only 5-20% of the population gets the flu each year.

There are many other viruses and germs that can be spread by health care workers to their patients, and firing employees over a core belief seems wrong. Maybe we just need robots to take care of us to avoid as much risk as possible? Let's face it, life is dangerous to your health.


  1. I hate to force anything on anyone else, but having several people in our family with compromised immune systems, I think those who work in healthcare are much more likely than the average person to be exposed to someone who gets the flu. I would guess that the incidence of flu among healthcare workers is much higher and they also see more people each day than the average person. So their risks are higher and the chance of them making sick people even sicker are higher.

    I would want to be immunized if I worked in a health facility to protect myself. #justsaying

  2. I agree they likely have a higher rate of exposure, but to be fired seems extreme. If they were 100% effective that would be different, even with the possible side effects, but you expose yourself to the risks and have no guarantee of protection from the virus either. It seems to be it should be a choice.