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Health care workers protest flu-vaccination order

Oct. 10, 2009: Demonstrators in Hauppauge protest the

Oct. 10, 2009: Demonstrators in Hauppauge protest the swine-flu vaccination order for health care workers. Credit: Photo by Ed Betz

Health care providers from throughout Long Island gathered on the lawn of Suffolk County’s Health Department Saturday in a second day of protests against the state’s mandatory flu-vaccination order.

Carrying picket signs in Hauppauge, the group numbering about 60 quietly talked among themselves as passing drivers honked in support. Protesters, who were from a number of medical facilities held a similar rally Friday in Mineola.

Certain health care personnel -- those in hospitals and a few other venues -- must undergo vaccination for seasonal and swine flu or risk losing their jobs.

Demonstrators insisted the swine flu vaccine is unsafe -- a charge vigorously denied by health officials who point to a roster of successful clinical trials. Officials also emphasize the vaccine is produced by the same manufacturers responsible for the seasonal flu inoculation taken by 100 million people annually.

Many protesters said they’re angry over what they feel is a violation of their civil rights -- and a loss of the right to choose. The Constitution Party distributed pamphlets at the rally urging smaller government.
“I am not opposed to immunization, I am opposed to mandating both of them [seasonal and swine flu vaccinations],” said registered nurse Vickie Thompson who works at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue. Thompson said she’s willing to lose her job.

Frank Mannino, a registered nurse at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in St. Charles, carried a poster of a giant lab rat to imply the role he believes is being forced on health care workers. “I have never taken a flu shot,” Mannino said, “and I’m not going to start now.”

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The controversial regulation, approved in August, made New York the only state mandating flu vaccination. However, other states are considering similar measures, and Hospital Corporation of America, the country’s largest hospital chain, is requiring its 183,000 employees in 20 states to be vaccinated for both seasonal and H1N1.

Protester Bob Grimmett of Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, noted health care providers are trained in universal precautions and know how to avoid infections. Grimmett, who works as a perfusionist (operating a heart-lung machine), said he will probably get vaccinated, but added, “I’m here to protect my civil rights.”

Statewide, only 40 percent to 50 percent of health care workers take advantage of voluntary seasonal flu vaccination but there are about 150 institutional outbreaks annually -- despite precautions. Federal health officials last week said there hasn’t been a flu season like this one in 41 years.

Still, a demonstrator carried a placard labeling the pandemic an illusion; others talked about vaccine-triggered neurological injury.

“I really love my job, my boss and my co-workers,” said Loriann Reardon, a nursing assistant at Stony Brook University Medical Center. But she, too, said she is mulling the prospects of quitting.

Who must get the shot

Aug. 13: State Hospital Review and Planning Council adopts regulation making annual flu vaccinations mandatory for health care personnel. Those with certain medical conditions are expected.

Who: Staff at hospitals, outpatient clinics and in home care services must have both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines.

Exempt: Private-practice physicians aren't included, unless they care for hospitalized patients. State officals said this is because they want to prioritize the vaccine for those in contact with the sickest and weakest patients -- such as workers in ERs and ICUs.

Penalty: Workers who flout the requirement face reassignment to non-clinical positions or loss of their positions. Deadline to comply is Nov. 30.

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