Ohio bill would protect employees who decline to get flu shots

In this Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018 file photo, a nurse prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Should your boss be able to force you to get a flu shot? What about a hospital mandating all of its nurses and doctors receive the vaccine?

One Ohio lawmaker thinks both are bad ideas.

State Representative Christina Hagan (R-Alliance) is supporting House Bill 193 which would prevent an employer from taking action against an employee who has not been vaccinated against influenza.

"This is big government pressing down on individual rights. this bill is no way anti-vaccine this is about personal choice and not stripping patients of their HIPAA rights, " she says.

Thirteen other states have passed legislation that prevents employers from mandating that their employees get a flu shot.

Businesses say it's a way to protect their bottom line, and avoid not having their workforce decimated by the flu that would hurt productivity.

The Ohio Hospital Association is fighting the bill saying: "Ohio’s hospitals and physicians are concerned that this legislation threatens the health and safety of patients, employees and the community. It is important to understand that influenza is a serious health risk and that nationally, approximately 266,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die annually as a result of the disease. The flu vaccine is the most effective method to prevent influenza, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all U.S. health care workers get vaccinated annually against influenza."

The issue hit home for Cincinnati Nurse Michelle Krinsky. Last year, she says she did not feel comfortable getting the flu vaccine because its ingredients and effectiveness concerned her. Her refusal, she says cost her her job.

"It's an injustice what they're doing to health care workers with no sound evidence behind it. And I think you have to speak out, stand your ground and make other nurses feel they can as well," she said.

At Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center the policy states:

Employees may be exempt from the influenza vaccination requirements if they fall into one of the following categories:

1. Staff members who have a severe egg allergy.

2. Staff members who have a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine.

3. Staff members with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of a prior vaccination.

4. Staff members who hold religious or spiritual beliefs that prohibits vaccination, if available.

5. Staff members who have a disability for which exemption status is the only reasonable accommodation.

6. Staff members who elect to submit a written statement which explains any other exemption.

Failure to obtain an influenza vaccine or submit an exemption form by the established deadline may result in progressive corrective action. Individuals who have been granted an exemption from influenza may be requested and encouraged to wear a surgical/procedure mask in all patient care activities during influenza season. Masking can help prevent the spread of flu to employees, patients, and visitors.

Nationwide Children's Hospital tells 10TV, "In order to comply with Joint Commission and the Centers for Disease Control recommendations that all personnel working in healthcare facilities receive the influenza vaccine annually, Nationwide Children’s Hospital does have a mandatory influenza vaccine program for the protection of patients and staff, as well as for the protection of infants and children in the NCH Child Care Center. Any exemptions, medical or religious, require approval. Any employee who does not receive an annual influenza vaccine must wear a mask at all times during Flu Season for the protection of patients and staff."

Mount Carmel also has a policy on flu vaccines it reads "All colleagues who have the potential of exposing patients, staff or visitors that require them to receive the annual flu vaccination.

Exemptions are granted to any colleague who has a medically justified condition and/or an approved religious concern."

House Bill 193 was voted out of committee but has yet to be heard on the House floor.