Fighting the flu
My final position in Nursing was at a long term care and rehabilitation facility, as a Nurse Educator. I was responsible for the educational needs of the Nursing Department as well as the mandatory educational requirements for all departments.
I was accustomed to being busy and having lots of interaction with about 200 employees and department heads.
In addition, I was responsible for the annual influenza (flu) vaccine campaign. As a huge supporter of the vaccine, I was always eager to get started.
The flu is dangerous for everyone, but especially for the population of long term care and rehab facilities. Patients who have compromised health need extra protection even if they themselves are vaccinated against the flu. That extra protection comes from surrounding patients with health care workers who are also vaccinated.
Each year in August I started education. I discussed the flu vaccine at leadership meetings, staff meetings, new employee orientation classes and, probably, in my sleep.
I created and distributed posters on the importance of the flu vaccine and how to avoid getting and spreading the flu.
I stocked the vaccine and related supplies and scheduled mass vaccine events where employees could come to a central place in our building to receive their vaccine. I also created a portable vaccine kit that could bring the vaccine directly to staff members anywhere in the building at a moment’s notice.
Receiving the flu vaccine at work was at first optional but encouraged. A few years later, my organization decided that receiving the flu vaccine would no longer be a gentle suggestion. It would be mandatory for all employees. Our goal: 100% compliance.
While the majority received the vaccine, employees who wished to opt out took up a considerable amount of time over many, many weeks. I found myself tracking down employees on all three shifts and using my powers of persuasion and scientific facts to convince them to get the vaccine.
They didn’t want the vaccine, but did want to talk about why they didn't want it. Reasons ranged from “I just don’t believe in it”, to, “I think it will give me the flu”, and “I’m pretty sure I’m allergic”. Also, “the vaccine is a scam by pharmaceutical companies”. Sometimes religious reasons were cited.
I helped refusers fill out refusal forms, submitted the forms and waited for a response to each employee. Most were told their refusal was not accepted. Others were told they could opt out of the vaccine, but would need to wear a paper mask at work during influenza season (roughly October through April).
A couple of people left our employ over their refusal to be vaccinated. A few wore masks for months. They included people in every department, and some department leaders as well.
Even as a supporter of vaccine efforts, each year, near the end of summer, I began to dread the start of flu season. I knew that instead of working on projects and offering needed educational programs, a lot of my time was going to be directed towards the mandatory influenza vaccine campaign.
I’m retired now, and last week my husband and I stopped in at a local pharmacy to get our flu shots. The pharmacy was quiet and calm, the pharmacist was congenial and soon we were on our way with matching tiny bandaids on our left arms.
I spent about 10 minutes thinking about the flu vaccine this year. Yes, life is good.
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