Mandated flu vaccines for health-care workers spurs protest

Health-care workers in hospitals, clinics and home-care services are mandated by state regulations to get flu vaccinations this year. Advertisement Today, state Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines defended the new rule while hundreds of people protested in Albany on the steps of the Capitol. Only 40 to 50 percent of health-care workers usually get the annual flu shots voluntarily, Daines said. This year, it’s a more serious situation because there are three flu seasons instead of one, he said. The novel H1N1 “swine flu” hit already and will come again, along with the usual seasonal flus. The first batch of the new swine flu vaccine should be circulating in the state by Oct. 5, Daines said. “This is remarkably early for a flu,” he said. Flu causes deaths and hospitalizations. He told reporters in a teleconference the rules apply to hospitals, outpatient clinics and home-care services, and it’s up to each of those institutions to apply to rules to their employees. The institutions could be sanctioned or fined if they don’t comply. The rules leave it up to each to figure how to comply and how to deal with employees. Reporters asked Daines about reports some facilities have threaten to fire people who don’t comply. “We promulgate a standard and expect them to meet it,” he said. Institutions that are not complying are “subject to a statement of deficiencies and sanctions,” he said. “This is adding one more logical health-care worker standard,” Daines said. Daines said he’s confident health-care workers will come through and get their shots. “We put the patient interest first,” he said. Other priority groups are pregnant women and people with chronic diseases. The vaccines are safe, he said. Some of the protesting workers at the Albany rally carried signs saying they didn’t want to be guinea pigs for testing the new vaccine. Sue Field of Poughkeepsie was an organizer of the rally, which she said attracted several hundred people from a variety of groups including nurses, other health-care workers, people who think there may be a link between vaccines and autism and libertarian groups. “The biggest issue here is that we’re being told to get vaccinated or get terminated,” Field said. Field said she’s a registered nurse and works in Poughkeepsie but declined to give the name of the institution but has been told by “my facility people not to mention where I work.” Some protesters have concern about the safety of the vaccine, while others are concerned about the erosion of personal liberty. “I’m not an anti-vaccination person in every sense of the word,” Field said. “I feel like my civil rights are being violated and it’s being shoved down my throat.”

Reach Craig Wolf at or 845-437-4815.

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