Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Americans were grateful for immunizations. I remember standing in line at my elementary school to get my oral polio vaccine, brought to us by private foundations and government-sponsored (gasp!) health clinics. No one complained. My parents’ generation remembered polio, which crippled and killed.
But times have changed. Few alive today remember the devastation of an epidemic; mistrust of big institutions, including government, has grown; and the Internet and 24/7 cable news casts have brought us more rumors and half-truths than reliable information. So some health care workers are in a tizzy because their employers are requiring them to get vaccinated against either seasonal flu, swine flu or both.
(Before any of you get hysterical, let’s be clear: Vaccines are mandatory for some health care workers, not for all individuals. And it’s not the federal government who is ordering the vaccines. The state of New York has ordered all health care workers in front-line patient care to be vaccinated. And some private health care groups, such as MedStar, have also issued the order.)
The rationale for mandatory flu shots for health care workers seems logical enough. Said New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines:
“The rationale begins with the health-care ethic, which is: The patient’s well-being comes ahead of the personal preferences of health-care workers.”
Nevertheless, some health care workers are frightened. This suggests they don’t assess risks well. (They remind me of people who are afraid to fly but don’t mind automobile transportation. You’re much more likely to die in a car accident than in a commercial aircraft crash.) If you don’t believe in the facts of medical research, why work in health care?
I wouldn’t want a non-immunized health care worker who just treated several people with swine flu to see my baby the next day. He/she is likely contagious but wouldn’t have symptoms yet. So my baby would be exposed. If you don’t want to get a shot, go to work in another industry.