12:25pm

Sun January 13, 2013
Health

Colorado Flu Firings On The Rise

Nationwide Flu Activity Map
Credit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If patients can refuse a flu shot, why not health care workers?

Hospitals are increasingly cracking down on employees who refuse to get flu shots across five states-including Colorado. Affected workers, hospital authorities and published reports say that in the past two months at least 15 hospital workers have been fired for refusing the shot, while several have resigned.

In a weekly report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado's flu rate it considered high- but not yet at the top of the scale.

The wave of required vaccinations was set off after the state Board of Health reported that only 60 percent of Colorado health workers had flu vaccinations. Educating health care staff about the need for flu shots has not been working, said state public health director Joni Reynolds. In February the board adopted new requirements, specifying that 60 percent of healthcare workers in the state receive flu shots by the end of this year. That requirement will rise to 90 percent by 2014.

However, many hospitals are insisting that 100 percent of their employees get the flu shot immediately. For most staffers, that means either obtaining the vaccination or getting an exemption for medical or religious reasons, and instead agreeing to wear a mask at work for months during the winter flu season at a time.

At Craig Hospital in Denver, a 20-person infection control committee approved the flu shot rule unanimously. As the rehab hospital’s clientele are recovering from brain and spinal cord injuries, they are “especially vulnerable,” the hospital explained in an email. Nine of Craig’s employees resigned or were terminated as a result of the rule, the hospital said.

Frances Ray-Dise says she was one of the nine. She was a unit secretary and refused the vaccine because she believes it contains harmful substances. She also thinks that drug companies’ desires for profits are driving the campaign for flu shots. Ray-Dise said she tried wearing a mask at work, but it interfered with her ability to speak clearly.

Ray-Dise said she was fired in October, reinstated and told she could request an exemption based on religious beliefs, and then fired again for not wearing a mask. She said she knows a dozen other people who were unhappy about the rules but complied. “One person in particular was crying, ‘What am I going to do? I cannot lose this job!’”  Ray-Dise said. “She did it absolutely and completely under duress because she felt she had no options.”

“They love their work, they love their jobs. And truly, they are up against the wall and feel they have no choice in the matter. What happened to freedom of choice? What happened to informed consent?”

The elderly, young children, pregnant women and people with certain heart of lung conditions are at risk for getting much sicker compared to the average adult. The anti-viral drug Tamiflu can ease symptoms if taken within the first 1-2 days of the illness.

Meantime, health officials are urging everyone to get a flu shot. According a recent NPR report, people who take the vaccine can still get sick. It’s about 60 percent effective.

You can look at each state's flu activity level here.