Every year like clockwork we hear their warnings; doctors, nurses, experts and more, all broadcasting on every news platform imaginable that the flu season is upon us and that it’s time to get your vaccination. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC); “everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine, [and that] influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death” (CDC). However, the exact number of how many people die as a result of the flu each year is unknown. Due to the methodology estimates for how many flu related death occur each year vary widely. This is because the CDC believes including the deaths that occur as a result of pneumonia, one of the most common complications of the flu, better reflects the severity and impact of the flu (CDC). However, in recent years, there has been much controversy and concern over the effectiveness of seasonal flu vaccinations, associated complications, and their impact on fertility. Until, more research is done, it is unethical to continue to mandate the vaccination as a condition of employment, a practice commonly seen in the health field.
Considering the inconsistencies in the expert opinion on the effectiveness of flu shots, is it fair to mandate vaccination as a condition of employment for medical staffing? According to many recent studies, seasonal flu vaccinations may not be as effective as previously believed. Professor Collingnon, a microbiologist at Australia’s National University believes that “if you get immunized with the seasonal vaccine, you get less broad protection than if you get a natural infection” (Mercola). During an interview with ABC News, Collingnon went on to explain how natural infections can decrease an individual’s susceptibility to similar viruses and provide some protection against different viruses that might be circulating the following year; while protection received via vaccination is much more limited and may in fact increase your susceptibility to the flu (Mercola). In a 2009 study done on Canadian children, it was revealed that those who had received a seasonal flu vaccination had decreased immune responsiveness and were more likely to be infected with H1N1 (Harrison). What’s more, is that the number of consecutive years you receive the vaccination affects its effectiveness (La Vigne). According to a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, the 2010-2011 flu season vaccination was 62% effective in protecting against influenza in individuals who had not received a vaccination the previous year, but only 45% effective on individuals who had (La Vigne). According to this particular study “those who were vaccinated in both years and those who had not been vaccinated in either year had similar influenza infection risks” (La Vigne). Despite these findings, the flu vaccination continues to be pushed upon health care workers who are exposed to a wide variety of contagious diseases. This not only puts them at risk for becoming infected by different circulating colds and viruses, the decreased immune responsiveness that results from vaccination also puts the patients who they come in contact with at greater risks.
Safety is the core reasoning behind the vaccination campaigns and company policies that mandate healthcare workers receive a shot as a condition of employment. It is a prophylactic measure intended to prevent the contraction and spread of potentially deadly viruses; but what happens when the vaccine itself can have potentially deadly outcomes? Should health care workers be expected to roll the dice and take a gamble that they won’t be one of those who develop a life threatening complication? Or, should they be allowed to decide that they’d rather take the risk associated with the flu itself and allow nature to run its course? Although the CDC insists that the flu vaccination is safe, according to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), there are around 30,000 reports of adverse reactions filed annually, with around 13% of those having serious life threatening effects that requires hospitalization, and, or results in death or disability (VAERS). While more than 2.5 billion dollars has already been paid out to individuals and their families who have been injured, and in some cases killed, by adverse reactions to vaccination, theses products continued to be deemed safe and effective by government authorities and continued to be pushed upon all members of society, especially healthcare workers. Not only is requiring all healthcare workers to receive a flu vaccination a violation of informed consent, considering what we do know about flu vaccinations it is unjustifiable.
When it comes to seasonal flu vaccinations GBS or Guillian-Barre Syndrome is one of the most common serious and life threatening conditions that results in compensation. Despite the fact that vaccine manufacturers and VAERS have acknowledged a correlation between flu vaccination and development of GBS, the only aspect of this condition that is mentioned on the flu vaccination information pamphlet is that its occurrence is extremely rare. Unfortunately this condition is also extremely under reported because filing a report is voluntary. As a result of the substantial amount of paperwork involved in making a claim, often incidents go un-reported. In the case of Joan (last name not provided), a nursing professor who taught at Connecticut State University, who developed GBS as a result of receiving a seasonal flu vaccination, during her hospital stay her and her daughter/caretaker, Katie, had come to learn of seven other individuals who had been hospitalized for GBS as a result of receiving a flu vaccination (Mercola). Katie, who was mortified at the fact that her mother had been paralyzed from the neck down after receiving the flu shot, as a result of a known possible side effect that neither of them had ever heard of, wanted to make sure her mother’s case was reported (Mercola). While doing so, Katie inquired about the report status of the other GBS incidents they had come to learn about during her mother’s extended hospital. Frighteningly, only one case (that of her mother’s) out of the eight total had been reported (Mercola). Current estimates for GBS incidents are at around 1-2 cases per 100,000 according to the CDC, however, it is likely that these numbers are much higher as a result of the sever under-reporting that occurs under the voluntary report system which is currently being implemented (CDC). In several studies it has been found that receiving the 1976-1977 seasonal flu vaccination correlated with doubling an individual’s risk of developing GBS, from 1-2 to 2-4 cases per 100,000 (CDC). That being said it is important to take into consideration that an individual’s odds of dying as a result of the flu for those under 19 is only .2 per 100,000, and for those aged between 19-65 only 1.5 per 100,000 die from the flu. This means that for individuals under the age of 65, according to the data present on the Centers for Disease Control’s website, for those who received the 1976-1977 flu vaccination, they were more likely to develop Guillian-Barre Syndrome than die from the flu. These numbers make it difficult, if not impossible to justify policies that mandate the flu vaccinations as a condition of employment. Healthcare workers cannot conscientiously be asked to take this kind of gamble for the chance that it might benefit others. This is especially true for women who are pregnant or are still in their reproductive years.
Deciding the risks an individual should take for their own health, and for the benefit of others, is ethically questionable, especial when it may affect their reproductive health. Unfortunately there is a huge gap in the research pertaining to the safety of vaccinations when it comes to pregnancy and fertility. Over and again, we have all heard that vaccines are safe and pose minimal risk of side effects, but this simply put is not true. Since the early 1990s the negative effects that polysorbate 80, also known tween 80, has on the reproductive organs of several animals has been well established in the scientific community (Gajodova et al.). If this ingredient has a known negative effect on reproductive organs and it is an ingredient in seasonal flu vaccinations, why then does the CDC and other government authorities not acknowledge that vaccinations then too may have a negative effect on human reproductive organs? The answer is simple: It’s because studies on how polysorbate 80 affects human reproductive organs have never been done in clinical trials, or at least they have never been published for the general public to access. More research on how this chemical affects human reproductive health needs to be done before the claim can be made that vaccines containing this product are safe. Until this information is available, requiring that all health care workers receive flu vaccines is unjust.
Not only do company policies that require health care workers to get the annual flu shot, take away the right to informed consent from these individuals, it takes away the rights of citizens to refuse treatment that they believe may be harmful. If company policy makers are able to require you to undergo a treatment for the benefit of someone other than yourself, how quickly will we lose our rights to refuse other types of treatment in the name of other people’s health? For this reason this is not just a healthcare worker issue, but a human rights issue. Because the influenza is a highly unpredictable virus which changes rapidly, vaccines must also change rapidly. This means each year has potentially different outcomes in terms of effectiveness and adverse reactions. In other words it is an acceptable for of human experimentation that has unfortunately grown to have an unprecedented level of societal acceptance, here in the US. For those who believe in the effectiveness of the seasonal flu vaccination and are willing to take the chance of having an adverse reaction, by all means, they should have access to it. But for those who do not believe the risks outweigh the benefits, they should not be forced into the one size fits all solution, policy makers are trying to impose upon various members of the workforce.
“About the VAERS Program”. VAERS. USA.gov. CDC. FDA. Web. 6 Mar. 2014.
Gajdova, M., Jakubovsky, J., Valky, J. “Delayed effects of Neonatal Exposure to Tween 80 on
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Harrison, Laird. “Annual Flu Vaccine May Weaken Kids’ Pandemic Immunity”. Medscape
Medical News. 28 Nov. 2011. Web. 4 mar. 2013.
La Vigne, Patrice. “Effectiveness of Flu Vaccine Raises More Red Flags.” National Vaccine
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Mercola, Joseph. “Confirmed! Flu Vaccin Increases Risk of Serious Pandemic Flue Illness”. Dr.
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