Thursday, January 03, 2013
Another of those competing liberty things . . .
For what are to me quite mysterious reasons, every year we have these whoop dee doos about health care workers refusing to get flu shots. This particular nurse -- who got fired from a long-time hospital job -- claims it's for "religious" reasons but apparently, at least from what her lawyer seems to be saying, the only religion in question is that it's her religion not to get the flu vaccine. Beyond that, she offers no explanation for her refusal.
Okay. I may get some pushback on this but here's the whole story as far as I'm concerned. Yes, the flu pandemic hoax of three years ago had me foaming at the mouth, and particularly got me up in the face of Daily Kos's Greg Dworkin. Influenza is not, in fact, all that big of a public health issue. Most of the 36,000 people or so in the U.S. who are are officially tagged as dying of flu are already debilitated and it just finishes them off. There is a much smaller number of unlucky folks whose lives are definitely cut short by it, including some children, but it's a far smaller number than are killed from car crashes, or even homicide. Most of the so-called Flu Like Illnesses (FLIs) that people get aren't flu at all, they're other viruses. Also, the flu vaccine isn't as effective as it's been touted to be, maybe about 60% effective, i.e. you can still get the flu even if you've been vaccinated.
All true. On the other hand . . .
The risk of any serious complications from flu vaccine is as close to zero as it can possibly be. It may even be zero. Possibly there is a 1 in a million risk of Guillan-Barre syndrome, or possibly there isn't. Virus for flu vaccines is grown in eggs, so people with allergies used to have a problem, but now there is egg free vaccine. So the worst you can get is a sore arm. Getting the vaccine benefits you personally, because it might let you avoid a case of the flu or have a more mild one if you do get it. That's not all . . .
It benefits everybody else, particularly people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women, and old folks, who are at high risk for flu complications, because by weakening the chain of transmission, it helps prevent other people from being exposed. (That's called "herd immunity," and maybe you don't like that term as applied to people but it's accurate.) So . . .
Obviously there's a basic interest in not forcing people to do what they want, in general, but if you work for a hospital you are obliged to act in the interest of the patients. You aren't allowed to smoke in the workplace, you aren't allowed to come to work while you're sick and know you are contagious, you aren't allowed to slack off and not pay attention to your duties, you may be required to do regular tests to establish that you retain the skills to do your job, you may have to get certain physical examinations -- as pilots and school bus drivers, for example, must do. Flu may not be the biggest problem in the world but it's a big problem for somebody who is already sick and in the hospital. So, if the administrators of the hospital require you to get a flu shot, they are well within their rights. Refusal is irrational, irresponsible, and nonsensical.
I feel no sympathy for this woman whatsoever. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Fire away.