Should hospital workers have the right to refuse to get a flu shot?

It’s an issue here in Bend and across the country as the flu season heats up.

In Oregon, hospitals cannot require immunizations for workers, according to Dr. Rebecca Sherer, medical director of the St. Charles infection control and prevention department. She said not all St. Charles employees are immunized, and anyone showing flu symptoms is sent home immediately.

We share Sherer’s view that it’s a public safety issue for Oregon and deserves immediate attention.

Hospital workers and others who care for those with compromised immune systems have a special responsibility to protect patients. If they’re not willing to be innoculated, they should find another line of work.

In at least four other states, health care workers have been fired for refusing the shot and others have resigned, according to The Associated Press. In Rhode Island, which has a mandatory vaccine policy for health care workers, more than 1,000 workers have signed a petition protesting the rule, and a labor union has filed suit to block it.

Workers oppose vaccination for a variety of reasons, including rare allergies, religious objections and doubts about its effectiveness. However, the AP cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that in nursing homes, studies show fewer patient deaths from all causes are linked to worker vaccination. For workers with a real medical reason that prevents innoculation, the hospital or nursing home should take steps to assure they won’t come in contact with vulnerable patients.

Hospitals and nursing homes need to take every precaution, and they should be free to replace workers unwilling to take this simple step.