A nurse was fired for refusing to get her flu shot — is that justified?

A hospital in St. Louis fired a nurse for refusing to get her flu shot. (Photo: Getty Images)
A hospital in St. Louis fired a nurse for refusing to get her flu shot. (Photo: Getty Images)

A nurse in Missouri is out of a job after refusing to comply with her hospital’s requirement that all employees get an annual flu vaccine. News of the nurse’s firing on Monday sparked protest, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The nurse, who has not been publicly identified, had been granted a religious exemption from the annual flu shot when she worked for St. Anthony’s Medical Center before it was acquired by Mercy South Hospital this year, protest organizer Nelia Aubuchon, who said she is close to the nurse, told the newspaper.

“That’s the problem here; they declined the religious exemption,” said Aubuchon.

The company implemented its flu shot policy several years ago and received 170 requests for medical or religious exemptions to the flu vaccine from its 44,000 employees this year, according to a hospital statement given to Yahoo Lifestyle. Most of the requests were granted, but those whose requests were denied were told this week, the hospital says.

“The point of our flu vaccination policy is simple: Protection against the flu virus saves lives, especially those of our most vulnerable patients,” the statement says. “Requiring health care co-workers to be vaccinated for the flu is a best practice across the U.S. to ensure the safety of patients, co-workers, and community members.”

The company “requires compliance with the policy by all Mercy co-workers as a condition of employment,” the statement continues. “This is an important step in protecting our patients, visitors, and co-workers.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically recommends that health care workers get an annual flu shot, among other vaccines, but individual policies vary by medical facility. However, it’s not uncommon for hospitals to have a policy in place that encourages employees to get their annual flu shot. “Most hospitals will have some policy in place for people who have direct contact with patients to require or strongly encourage the flu vaccine,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The latest data, released in 2017, said that over 60 percent of hospitals had a mandatory policy.”

The goals of this type of policy are simple, Adalja says: “Hospitals want to make sure that their employees are as highly vaccinated as possible not only to prevent them from getting infected with the flu and infecting patients, but also because it’s shown to decrease absenteeism from people getting sick as well.”

As for citing a religious reason for not getting the shot, “religious exemptions tend to be bogus and an excuse people use to avoid vaccination,” Adalja says. “Clearly, there are medical exemptions, but when people use religious or philosophical exemptions, it’s largely an effort not to get the flu vaccination.”

Ultimately, these policies are in place for a reason, Adalja says. “The flu is not a benign illness,” he says. “Health care providers should unequivocally get the vaccine and realize that transmission to patients is a real risk. Twenty-five percent of people with the flu can have no symptoms, and you can spread the flu before you get sick.”

“The only way we have of stopping transmission is through vaccination,” he continues. “It’s baffling that we have to tell health care providers this. They learned this in school. It shouldn’t be hard for them to understand.”

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