Moses Cone Health System requiring H1N1 vaccine for all staff, incites controversy

By Sarah Beth Costello

Nov. 10, 2009

Nurse Kelly Cobb never wished she were allergic to eggs until the Moses Cone Health System in Greensboro began requiring that all hospital staff receive the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 vaccine.

Individuals with egg allergies were exempt because both vaccines are egg based.

Cobb, who works in the telemetry and urology units, said last year Moses Cone attempted to make the regular flu shot mandatory, but canceled the requirement halfway through the designated time period. This year, Moses Cone once again required all hospital staff to receive the seasonal flu shot by Oct. 31 or risk termination from their jobs.

“I waited until the last minute to see if they would cancel (the mandatory  seasonal flu shot),” Cobb said. “Moses Cone came out with a statement saying if you don’t get the vaccine it will be considered a voluntary resignation with no option for rehire.”

Cobb ended up getting the seasonal flu shot, but since she does not work with patients who are extremely susceptible to H1N1, she is still waiting for her turn to get that vaccine. She is currently trying to decide whether or not to get the H1N1 shot or resign.

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Area hospitals are requiring that all staff receive the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 vaccine. Its relatively new release is brewing controversy as many do not want to get a vaccine that has not been thoroughly tested.

Moses Cone is also requiring that all staff receive the H1N1 vaccination, although it is being issued on different levels. For example, hospital staff that work in cancer wards, with infants or patients with susceptible immune systems, have already received the vaccination.

Eventually, the entire staff will be vaccinated.

“There are exceptions (other than egg allergies),” Cobb said. “If you get a doctor’s note it has to have a valid reason, and (Moses Cone) can say ‘No, this is not a credible option,’ or ‘Yes, this is substantial for being exempt.'”

The H1N1 vaccination has become a controversial issue. Thousands of Americans are anxiously waiting for the vaccine to become available in their areas, but others are cautious of a vaccine that’s long-term side effects are still unknown.

The Greensboro News and Record reported Nov. 5 that three Moses Cone hospital workers resigned for failing to receive a seasonal flu shot.

According to the article, many workers were angered by the either/or option that required them to get a shot, since they did not want or lose their jobs in an already unstable economy.

Despite rumors and concerns that the H1N1 vaccine could lead to serious side effects, health officials claim patients won’t suffer more than slight soreness. But this does not eradicate concerns for the long-term side effects.

“I don’t want to get it because I’m concerned it hasn’t been tested thoroughly,” Cobb said, whose unit is in the second tier to receive the vaccine. “Personally, I don’t appreciate that (Moses Cone) is only seeing me as an employee and not as an individual. They are not giving me the same opportunity as they’re giving patients who have every right to receive or not receive any treatment.”

A recent Associated Press poll showed one-third of American parents did not want their children to receive the H1N1 vaccine despite urges from the CDC and doctors this summer that children be vaccinated.

“My opinion is (the vaccine) is way too new and has not gone through enough clinical trials to be on the market,” said Celia Henry, a nursing student at Alamance Community College and student R.N. at Alamance Regional Medical Center. “I don’t think employees should be required to get (the vaccine) because they have a choice whether to do patient care with or without a mask.”

Few area hospitals are requiring staff to receive the H1N1 vaccine. While ARMC has not mandated an H1N1 vaccination, staff and patients are encouraged to get it.

“All vaccines that are mandatory have been on the market (for a long time), like chicken pox and rubella,” Henry said.

The major concern with the H1N1 vaccination is its recent release. Most hospitals require basic vaccinations and the addition of another one is not viewed as problematic.

“Patients make the comment that they don’t want the people taking care of them to be sick, they don’t want to be exposed,” Cobb said. “I completely appreciate that, and at the same time they need to consider that every day I expose myself to viruses and diseases, whether it’s AIDS, hepatitis or the simple cold, to take care of people. It’s a risk I take on a daily basis.”

The Center for Disease Control reported 22 flu-related deaths last week. Nineteen were confirmed H1N1 cases and three were influenza A viruses. The CDC has received 114 laboratory-confirmed pediatric 2009 H1N1 deaths since April.

Elon students, faculty and staff have also received their share of confirmed H1N1 cases and type A flu.

“As of Oct. 31, we had 100 patients confirmed with Type A flu (most probably H1N1, but not confirmed),” said Jana Lynn Patterson, assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of students. “We have had seven cases confirmed by the CDC and we had another 364 patients who presented influenza-like symptoms, but may or may not have had the flu.”

The Health Center is not requiring staff to receive the vaccine, although they encourage students, faculty and staff to research it and make their own decisions.

“I think that if people are healthy and are comfortable they should definitely get it,” Patterson said. “The CDC is saying it’s safe for most people and their recommendation is, unless there’s a medical reason, people most likely should get (the vaccine.)”

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1 comment
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