The Power of Nurses at Day on the Hill: Legislators drop mandatory flu vaccine bill

1 Apr
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Nurses meet with mandatory flu vaccine author Rep. Tom Huntley

Minnesota legislators introduced a bill (HF2415/SF2212)to require mandatory flu vaccination for all health care workers. At MNA’s Nurses Day on the Hill on March 11, nurses raised these issues with their respective representatives and senators, including the bills’ sponsors, and brought forward enough concerns that the authors and legislative leaders agreed that the bill should not move forward this year. It is very unusual for a bill’s author to change their mind about an issue after a bill has been introduced, and, to our knowledge, this is the first MNA issue to be withdrawn in recent memory.

 

While MNA considers vaccinations one important public health tool and encourages nurses to consider vaccination as a means of protecting themselves and their patients, we oppose attempts to legally mandate vaccines. Mandatory vaccination alone is not sufficient to protect patients and staff and control the spread of influenza. Nurses raised these concerns with legislators:

 

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Nurses meet with House Speaker Rep. Paul Thissen.

1)     Mandatory vaccination is a single pronged approach which does not apply the most effective level of protection against the spread of infection

  • Vaccination alone does not ensure patient safety. Overreliance on a vaccine that is only 62 percent effective[i] puts patient and nurse health at risk.
  • “Social distancing” or isolation, i.e. staying home when healthcare workers are sick is a much more effective means of controlling the spread of influenza. Unfortunately, hospitals discipline nurses for using sick time, and many other workers have no sick time at all, which creates a culture that coerces them into working sick and regularly exposing patients to contagious illnesses.
  • Special engineering controls and triaging patients to an infectious containment area are also much more effective measures hospitals do not regularly utilize or enforce.
  • A paramount concern for patient and worker safety is for hospitals to provide adequate staffing that allows nurses necessary time to time to gown, glove, mask, and hand wash sufficiently as they move between patients.
Nurses gather outside the Capitol after all day meetings with legislators.

Nurses gather outside the Capitol after all day meetings with legislators.

2)     Vaccines can result in illness and injuries that are not compensable by workers compensation

  • Serious illness and injury can occur from a flu vaccination and, if mandated, it should be a covered event under worker’s compensation. Workers Compensation currently does not compensate for vaccination illness or injury.

3)     Mandatory Vaccination infringes on nurses’ rights to collective bargaining and privacy

  • Mandatory vaccination for nurses would be a term and condition of employment or mandatory subject of bargaining, which must be negotiated with MNA members and other unionized workers.
  • Some hospitals require non-vaccinated employees to wear surgical masks, which is a violation of the employee’s right to privacy and ineffective at protecting patients and workers from airborne flu transmission. Employees should not be required to disclose personal medical information by requiring them to wear a special tag indicating their vaccination status or requiring the employee to provide medical information on a declination form.
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More than a hundred nurses made the journey to St Paul from across the state of Minnesota for Day on the Hill 2014.

The battle against the flu never stops, and the issue of mandated vaccinations will likely return again. MNA believes future attempts to address the spread of flu should include:

  • a voluntary, free and accessible vaccination program;
  • paid sick time for all workers and no discipline for using sick time;
  • broader infection control measures to limit the spread of illness;
  • a requirement that the Workers Compensation Advisory Council to consider vaccination-related injury or illness a covered and compensable event.

 

[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 18, 2013

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