Nurse attorney Nancy Brent, MS, JD, RN, addresses a nurse’s question about her right to choose whether or not to receive an influenza vaccination.
I was wondering if a facilitys administration can force nurses to take the flu vaccine? What are my rights?
Your question raises many legal and ethical issues that cannot be easily responded to in this column. However, some general comments can be made.
Ethically, when a nurse works with patients, it is generally supported by the nursing profession that those nurses should get the flu vaccine. Indeed, the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements clearly supports this throughout its many provisions, including Provision 3, which states, “The nurse promotes, advocates for and protects the rights, health and safety of patients.”
Not getting a flu shot can result in serious risk to patients, to co-workers and to yourself.
There are some individuals, including nurses, who opt out of taking the flu shot. The refusal is most often based on religion reasons, a medical reason or a philosophical objection to the flu vaccine.
However, there is controversy over whether flu shots should be voluntary or mandated among healthcare workers, including nurses. Although most states recommend that healthcare workers get flu vaccinations, only 21 states have a law that requires healthcare workers to get flu vaccinations and the law in states that require the vaccination vary based on healthcare settings, exemptions, types of workers and enforcement methods.
Likewise, many employers are mandating flu shots unless an established exemption is present. For those nurses who are members of a union, unions have fought mandatory flu shot requirements when a refusal results in a job termination.
Interestingly, the CDC has reported that for the final 2013-1014 flu season, flu vaccination coverage among healthcare workers was 75.2%. The highest coverage of healthcare workers where flu vaccination requirements were in place was 97.8%.
Ask your nurse administrators about your state’s laws in relation to the flu vaccination or find out from you state board of nursing. In addition, consulting with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state about your ability to refuse the mandatory requirement at your work place and its ramifications, would be a good idea.