Hospital crack down on flu vaccinations for employees is unethical

Holly New

It may be cold and flu season, but more than fevers are rising.

Tempers flare as hospitals are cracking down on the percentage of employees who are vaccinated from the flu virus, and some are starting to mandate the vaccine. Some hospitals, like those in Oklahoma City, are allowing those refusing the flu shot to wear masks when they are in contact with patients, but others are simply firing those employees. Foxnews.com reports that “a survey by CDC researchers found that in 2011, more than 400 U.S. hospitals required flu vaccinations for their employees and 29 hospitals fired unvaccinated employees.”

This year, the policies haven’t changed. The flu has been aggressive as ever, even being considered an epidemic. According to Marilynn Marchione, chief medical writer of The Associated Press, there have been 29 pediatric flu-related deaths, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the number of annual flu-related deaths in the U.S. ranges from 3,000 to 49,000.

There is reason for concern.

The flu virus is highly contagious and affects many, including those who work in hospitals. By definition, hospitals are a hotbed for disease, and the flu is no exception. The need for concern to protect patients and employees is apparent. However, some are claiming that hospital employees who refuse the flu shot should be held accountable.

We are all endowed with certain rights, but when do ethical responsibilities become more important?

This is a question we must all ask ourselves: Who decides when personal choice should be taken away in the name of public health? We’ve seen restrictions on food and drugs as a way to protect civilians, but this situation is different because hospitals are forcing people to put something into their body instead.

I have never had a flu shot, nor do I plan on ever getting one. Skepticism about its effectiveness aside, my decision to refuse the flu shot is not for religious or moral reasons, but for something much simpler: It’s personal. No one should have the right to mandate what a person puts into their body. There is a difference between the moral responsibility to stay home if one is sick and forcing someone to inject him or herself with a virus.

I think that hospitals should advise their employees to become vaccinated. I also think that those who are in contact with patients should practice basic procedures to lessen the threat of spreading disease, including washing their hands and using tissues. But just as no job is worth going against personal beliefs, no public health concern is worth infringing on personal rights.

I can’t deny that hospitals don’t have the right to fire workers who refuse the flu shot. However, do they have a moral responsibility to respect individual rights? That question is still up in the air.