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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Flu vaccine mandates spur a backlash

While mandatory influenza vaccination policies continue to gain momentum in health care, there are some signs of a backlash against flu immunization as a condition of work.

“This is a basic human rights issue, sovereignty over our own bodies,” asserts Barbara Skurnowicz of Bloomfield Hills, MI, president of Michigan Health Care Professionals for Vaccine Choice , an organization formed in response to the growing number of hospitals mandating flu vaccination.

Skurnowicz’s organization is lobbying the Michigan legislature to allow a waiver for health care workers who decline vaccination for medical, religious or philosophic reasons, similar to the waivers available from childhood vaccination.

Concerns about the punitive nature of some mandatory policies have led to some back-pedaling. A working group of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC), a federal panel that advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently took a straw poll on whether to recommend mandatory vaccination of health care workers. Only 12 of 25 members wanted a full mandate, with exceptions only for medical contraindications or religious beliefs.

In a written statement to the panel, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration noted that flu vaccine technology is “problematic” and that the protection the vaccine provides is variable. “[T]here is insufficient scientific evidence for the federal government to promote mandatory influenza vaccination programs that do not have an option for the [health care personnel] to decline for medical, religious and/or personal philosophical reasons,” OSHA said.

The split opinions on the NVAC panel reflect debate about how to define “mandatory” and whether to emphasize other methods to increase immunization. The panel is charged with making recommendations on reaching the HealthyPeople 2020 goal of at least 90% influenza vaccination of health care workers.