The Flu Vaccine Controversy

By: Jennifer Chaikin, RN-BC, MSN, MHA, CCRN Executive Director of Educational Initiatives,
Jennifer Chaikin, RN

Jennifer Chaikin, RN

I understand the feelings of those nurses who have been fired for refusing the flu vaccine. I never got a flu vaccine because I never got the flu. After decades of working in pediatrics and after having my kids, I thought I had built up some sort of immunity to childhood and other diseases.

I thought I didn’t need any “extra protection.” I also know that developing the flu vaccine isn’t an exact science (it’s scientists’ best guestimate of which strain(s) will be prevalent in a particular year), and I believed my immune system would do its job if I were ever exposed to the flu.

But my kids received the vaccine. That was a no brainer. I even made my husband get one. I watched as countless colleagues got vaccinated for something I knew I didn’t want or need. Nope. Not me. Somehow I determined I was invulnerable.

About three years ago, the hospital I was working in decided to institute the flu vaccine requirement for employees. We had a specific time frame to obtain the injection (preferred to the mist) from our primary care provider or employee health clinic. Yes, there was some hemming and hawing, myself included. What right did they have to force me to get a vaccine I did not want or need? How could I get around this? I refused often and loudly.

One day, right before the required deadline, I thought about why the vaccine was so important — and why now? Why were the hospitals and many providers making a big deal out of this? Was it money? Patient outcomes? Patient satisfaction scores? Probably all the above.

However, I determined there was something greater and more important than those issues. I asked myself how could I effectively advocate for health and prevent illness if I did not practice what I preached? Because every time (and I’m not kidding — every time) I asked a parent to immunize their child with the flu vaccine, I was questioned: Did you have one? Did your kids get one? Why would you give your kids something you didn’t want for yourself? I got tired of being a hypocrite.

Allergies and religious exemption are legitimate reasons for not obtaining this vaccine, and from my understanding, hospitals allow those reasons. I do have a religious exemption. I keep kosher. The flu vaccine contains chicken embryonic cells, and I would be willing to bet that they are not from a kosher chicken. So I could claim religious exemption (along with my other Jewish colleagues) and be done with it. But every year I choose not to. Mainly because I still have a choice. No one is taking my rights away by asking me to keep others safe.

I must weigh the importance of sticking to my religious dietary restrictions vs. the need to protect myself, my family and my patients. I have the choice to claim the exemption and wear a mask all season (again to protect myself and my patients), work outside of patient care areas, or get vaccinated. As nurses our code of ethics tells us we need to also consider the rights of individuals (including ourselves) to refuse treatment — and at the same time ensure safety, which is the same challenge within public health.

I could no longer be a hypocrite nor self-focused. I finally understood that this flu shot was not about me. This was about protecting others — especially those who are vulnerable. I could not help but consider how horrible I would feel if I brought the influenza virus into the hospital and gave it to my patient, and that patient died.

I got my flu shot those three years ago and have been an advocate for it ever since. Oh, and I still (knock wood) have never gotten the flu.

Want to educate yourself about flu? Check out these courses on

Aging Immune Systems Makes Older Adults More Vulnerable to Attack

Adult Immunizations: Growing Needs, Growing Numbers

Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Update

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39 Responses to The Flu Vaccine Controversy

  1. Branda Mearnic, R.N. says:

    It should be forced in hospitals. Here’s why. As a nurse YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR PATIENTS! People are such fools for not getting any vaccine. The flu vaccine is just as important. I deal with people every day who don’t get their kids vaccinated! I am sick and appalled at such parents. Getting yourself and your kids vaccinated is a MUST! For those that don’t get vaccinated or don’t get their kids vaccinated consider yourself a bad parent.

    • sb says:

      I would watch those words…of all the horrible things out there that can make a person a “bad parent” this is what you choose? I am guessing you are not a parent…

    • Lisa, RN says:

      yeah, and the moms who didn’t get tetracycline when they were pregnant were endangering their pregnancies and their children’s lives…same with thalidomide. You are a moron to believe that “Any” vaccine is a good thing. The federal courts just admitted that the Hep B vaccine can cause fatal auto-immune disorders!! Educate yourself, you simplistic sheeple.

    • JB RN says:

      I dont see the harm in wearing a mask around your patients if you choose to not get the vaccine. Saying that vaccinations should be forced in hospitals is a violation of autonomy. While it is true that vaccines help protect people, they may do harm to those who receive them as well. that is why there is a controversy.

      • As an employee your autonomy to do as you please is limited in countless ways. Behavior is regulated all the time by employers for the good of the business. Since most nurses are at-will employees they can quit if the need to be vaccinated is too onerous. It is also time to drop the idea there is a controversy over flu vaccines. At worst, they are ineffective for some but that is very different from being dangerous.

    • If you were smart – you would discover what the whistleblowers who made these vaccines have said about these so called vaccines before making such accusations.

  2. judy d says:

    I don’t feel I should be forced to receive the flu vaccine. I have been forced to receive it and have got the flu anyway! My employer requires it so I have to get it. My issues are 1 Visitors and patients are not required to recieve the vaccine or show proof that they have recieved it. 2 I have coworkers who come to work sick and some don’t really mind sneezing without turnig away from others and don’t mind leaving used tissues around!:(

    • Flu vaccines for staff do not completely protect patients. Patients can come in contact with many unimmunized people, plus not everyone who receives the vaccine develops antibodies to the virus. Those facts do not mean that we should nothing because we can’t do everything. Nurses have a responsibility to do all they can individually to protect patients which includes diligent handwashing, wearing masks prn, and getting vaccinated for all communicable diseases that are at risk for transmission in their setting.

      • judy d says:

        What are your thoughts regarding visitors?

      • @judy d Re: Visitors
        The danger of a visitor is the same as anyone else. The vaccine may or may not have worked for them, and they may or may not be contagious. Visitor policy needs to be tailored to the susceptibility of the patient. Low ANC, elderly, high dose steroid use, and other immunocompromised patients may need to have few visitors or require them to wear masks.

    • Jayvee RN says:

      agreed 100%-it is a fallacy that forced vaccination is preventative. Visitors and patients are much more numerous and there are no requirements that they show proof of vaccination or accept vaccination, or even wear masks while here. The influenza vaccine is an educated guess-and they often guess wrong. I would like to be left to make my own health decisions.

  3. Kosher applies to what you eat. An injectable drug cannot be swallowed so Kosher law does not apply. Also, since not spreading flu could be considered a life saving action, Kosher rules would be superseded.

  4. D.J., RN says:

    I do not think flu shots or any healthcare choices should be mandated by any job. no one should have that power over a personel choice. and whether or not to get a flu shot or a pneumonia shot is still your choice. as getting or not getting a Gardisil shot for your teenage son or daughter.

    • The problem is a nurse’s personal freedom ends when he or she is then responsible for transmitting a disease to a vulnerable patient. As nurses we have to decide which is more important, our unwarranted fears of a vaccine, or the safety of our patients?

      • judy d says:

        What about requiring visitors to be vaccinated? If they refuse or refuse to show proof of vaccination ,
        then in the attempt to keep our patients safe I feel we have an obligation to refuse visiting in order to protect our patients.

      • Emlyn Jansa says:

        So should all nurses & visitors show proof they are not HIV positive? Or that we don’t have herpes, or any other STD that can INFECT a patient?

      • judy d says:

        That would be going to the extreme as the mode of transmission is a bit different

    • Susan Steadman, RN, BSN says:

      I have to agree with Brent Thompson, PhD, RN and would expand on the issue with this. We come in contact with the nastiest bugs the community spreads at any given time. How would you feel if you carried a virus home to a young child–yours or someone else’s–they contracted this deadly flu and they tragically died. How do you feel about being a carrier…I think healthcare workers should be the center of “herd immunity” movement; created by getting a greater percent of a population immunized so that the ability of the virus to spread is impaired. When it is difficult to find hosts, its ability to spread and strengthen is greatly reduced. We are responsible to our communities, and should act like it (barring allergy or religious reasons).

      • It’s looking like egg allergy is not a contraindication to the flu vaccine even in cases of severe egg allergy: Greenhawt MJ et al. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2012 Dec; Vol. 109 (6), pp. 426-30.

        I also see no reason why there should be a religious exemption to vaccines. I don’t understand why someone’s idea or philosophy should supersede the reality of biological risk.

      • Emlyn Jansa says:

        There are many other nasty bugs’ that we can carry home to our families. I’ve been a nurse 40 years & have not carried anything home to my children, husband & grandchildren. Until I was forced to take the flu vaccine I never got the flu. Now I usually get some sort of respiratory illness within a week of receiving it. I’ve had flu almost each year AFTER getting the vaccine–yes I know it’s now a live vaccine. I still think it should be CHOICE. Chances are that our patients & families are gonna ‘catch’ bugs from the community. Are we gonna require everyone to take vaccines for everything?? We are in a society that wants to micromanage everything including illness. If you want a flu vaccine then please take it. I don’t want to take it so don’t force me to take it.

      • Emlyn Jansa says:

        In my comment below I put ‘now a live virus’ I meant NOT.

      • What I wrote on my FB page: No controversy with me. Get the flu shot or stay at home, away from me. I’m not going to be singly responsible for your herd immunity.

  5. JK, R.N. says:

    What I don’t understand is this….
    The argument for health care workers to get the flu shot, is that technically, you are contagious before you get flu symptoms. But not everyone who gets the flu shot, is immune to the flu, and a good number of them get the flu. So in essense, they too are contagious prior to getting flu symptoms. So, whether you get the flu shot or not, you may get the flu and you may be contagious before you have symptoms. So where is the logic in mandating health care workers get the flu shot?

    Also, what about the right of health care workers to decline being injected with something that contains the embryonic cells of a chicken? I could think of many, many reasons, besides religious or allergy related, why someone would decline this.

    Just my thoughts….

  6. Insight: Evidence grows for narcolepsy link to GSK swine flu shot
    First of all, it just doesn’t work.

    The propaganda machine will tell you that the flu shot is “60% effective”, but this is a blatant manipulation of the statistics. This article published last year at Natural News explains how the numbers are “massaged” to present the picture that Big Pharma (who funds the research) wants presented. In actuality, the flu shot prevents the flu in only 1.5 out of 100 adults. You can wade through the abstract at The Lancet here.

    1.5%. Let that sink in. That means that you have a 98.5% chance it WON’T work. Why would anyone possibly have something foreign injected into his or her body with those odds?

    Part of the reason it is ineffective it because it’s guesswork. Scientists must attempt to predict which 3 viruses (of the over-300 influenza viruses that have been identified) will be the most prevalent during a given year. If you get the flu shot and are then exposed to virus #4-300, you will have no additional immunity to those.

    Natural News just published an article yesterday that tells us many of the people being struck down in the current epidemic have received vaccinations, which clearly did not have the desired effect.

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    Ganoderma lucidum is reported to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral activities.[51][52] Ganoderma lucidum is reported to exhibit direct anti-viral with the following viruses; HSV-1, HSV-2, influenza virus, vesicular stomatitis. Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms are reported to exhibit direct anti-microbial properties with the following organisms; Aspergillus niger, Bacillus cereus, Candida albicans, and Escherichia coli. Other benefits were studied such as the effect of lowering hypertension, cholesterol, and anti-inflammatory benefits through the ganoderic acid properties.

  7. The fact that any employer can mandate that a worker (nurse, coder, tech., or any hosp. staff member) MUST get a flu shot or lose their job just infuriates me! We are all people (not hospital property). Individuals have the right to choose wether they want to put a foreign substance in their body (pills, antibiotics, injections,
    immunizations, artificial joints, etc). Yes, I do believe that we as nurses take an oath to protect our patients and give them the best care possible. However, we can not protect them from every illness or disease. Nurses and other humans also have the right to protect themselves and DECIDE WHETHER A FLU SHOT IS FOR THEM!! Nurses and other health care professionals have the right to choose whether they want to take the Hepatitis injections, etc. So, why is it that these same staff members are mandated to get the flu shot or LOSE THEIR JOB!!! The last thought that I will leave you with is that …why is it that hospitals are taking it upon themselves to institute this mandation and no other work places (that I’m aware of) have followed suite? I believe this shows that other employers feel that it is a nurse’s, coder’s, or any other human beings’ right to make choices for themselves!!!

    • Susan says:

      Actually the timing of these mandates shows that it is really about money. CMS can now reduce reimbursement to healthcare entities not vaccinated at a rate of 98% by 2%. Hospital systems can’t afford to risk taking a 2% hit in revenue from Medicare. These mandates are an effort avoid that risk all in the name of the greater good despite the fact that the shot really isn’t all that effective. Who benefits? Pharmaceutical companies. Who loses feeedom? healthcare employees. It should be a choice. I think we can all agree that doctors, nurses and ancillary healthcare workers are some of the most giving caring individuals. I think we can also agree that they have the insight and expertise to make their own decisions about their healthcare. If this is true then why is there a need for a mandate in the first place? If it was soooooo good for us why are there so many educated professionals and clinicians out there who have to forced to get it.

  8. LRTrogdon says:

    Why are people who have had the flu shot so worried about those who choose not to receive it? If the shot is so efficacious, you should be safe. Right?

    • The reason is that the flu shot is not 100% efficacious but the more people who are vaccinated the less likely unprotected people will be exposed. Since nurses work with a lot of vulnerable people that why is we’re “so worried”.

      • LRTrogdon says:

        The Osterholm study (an analysis of more than 5,000 flu studies) points out “there is a relative absence of good data to evaluate the effectiveness of these vaccines.” Also there is no evidence that flu shots lead to “herd immunity” when most people are vaccinated. “40% of the vaccinated workers are also unprotected” because the the flu shot efficacy is only around 59%. Mandatory vaccination programs should be based on evidence and facts.
        Reference A systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis 2011.

      • The Osterholm study also says: “Influenza vaccines can provide moderate protection against virologically confirmed influenza, but such protection is greatly reduced or absent in some seasons. Evidence for protection in adults aged 65 years or older is lacking. LAIVs consistently show highest efficacy in young children (aged 6 months to 7 years)”. The difficulty from year to year is identifying the flu virus of concern months before the North American flu season. This year’s vaccine has been shown to be a good match. Since getting the vaccine is a low risk-high reward action then there is little reason to not to get the vaccine.

  9. Emlyn Jansa says:

    LRTrogdon–HAHA You are so right!

  10. Remarkable! Its actually remarkable paragraph, I have got much clear idea about from this post.

  11. Marcy R.N. says:

    Peter Doshi, postdoctoral fellow
    Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
    Influenza: marketing vaccine by marketing disease

    The recent article in BMJ is more than eye opening and I am glad real scientists are speaking out. Unless you have a subscription to BMJ you can not read it so here is another link. The entire BMJ article and research starts at the middle:

    Also included is a short Q and A :

    The entire BMJ article is below, after this brief Q & A with the author.

    Q&A with study author Peter Doshi, Harvard University
    Q) Should we continue to get the flu shot? What about parents who are trying to decide for their children?

    A) “Public health experts are routinely misleading the public as to the strength of the science in support of its statements about vaccine effectiveness, safety, and the threat of influenza … The vaccine is not always “better than nothing.”

    Q) Could you comment on the studies that show that getting the flu shot may not prevent you from getting sick, but can help prevent you from getting a serious case?

    A) “My paper addresses the studies that claim influenza vaccines reduce the risk of influenza complications. No good studies support this claim … I would encourage you to take specific questions to the CDC regarding its policy.”

  12. Pingback: Flu shots matter: Nurses must get the facts and spread the word | Blog

  13. Jenn, are flu shots REALLY effective? If so, who did the study and what agenda did that study have (if any?) And do you know of any case in which a nurse’s choice for not taking a flu shot resulted in the death of a patient? Please advise as I will be covering this article on my radio show and I cover vaccine issues on Thursdays. Thank you.

  14. says:

    Aw, this was a very good post. Spending some time and actual effort to produce a very good article… but what can I say… I put things off a lot
    and never seem to get nearly anything done.

  15. anon says:

    Forced shots for full reimbursement under the guise of protecting patients. CDC whistle blower debunks recent safety study. Then there is the “Canadian Paradox,” studies now show that repeated vaccinations decrease effectiveness. Wonder how long it will take for that story to be buried.

  16. It’s nearly impossible to find educated people in this particular topic, but
    you sound like you know what you’re talking about!

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