Nurses, get the flu shot
Thursday, December 04, 2014
Chicago Tribune by Editorial Board
Public health experts urge most Americans to protect their health — and shield those around them — by getting a flu shot every year. That's particularly vital for people like nurses, who care for elderly and ill people.
That's why the Cook County Health and Hospitals System requires all of its workers to be vaccinated against the flu. There are patients to protect.
But some of the Cook County system's nurses seek a pass.
The union that represents most of the system's nurses, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, has appealed to the Illinois Labor Relations Board to stop Cook County health officials from forcing nurses to get a flu shot.
"We encourage everyone to get an annual flu shot," union official Marti Smith told us. "That said, we believe health care providers should be able to use their own judgment in determining whether or not the vaccine is appropriate for them."
But this is not just about them. This is about protecting the people around them. There are certain requirements of employment in every workforce, and this is a reasonable one for hospitals and clinics. Many private hospitals in the Chicago area and across the nation require employees to get a flu shot.
Most medical professionals know that going without a flu vaccine is risky for them and for their patients. Most Cook County health system employees apparently agree. Almost 9 in 10 have taken the shot, a county spokeswoman said. "Knowingly putting patients and coworkers at risk when we know that risk can be reduced by a safe, effective vaccine is irresponsible," the county said in a statement.
Plenty of people decline to get a flu shot each year. Some don't believe the vaccine works. Yes, the vaccine's effectiveness varies, depending on a person's age and overall health, and on how well it targets the flu viruses that dominate in any season.
Some fear the shot will make them sick. Serious reactions happen, though they're rare.
Some believe employers should not be able to force them to get a medical treatment, even one as mild as a flu shot. That's a reasonable argument in most workplaces but not in places that draw people whose health is already compromised.
The Cook County health system provides flu shots to employees for free.
We hope the ILRB leaves this decision to the health system.
And that every nurse gets the shot.
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