Parents are used to mandatory vaccines for children entering school, but the idea of compulsory shots for adults is stirring up quite a controversy this fall.
For the first time, hospitals, university health systems, and even the state of New York, are requiring that health care workers get the flu vaccine -- and not all employees are happy about it.
Hundreds of people took to the New York state capitol Tuesday to protest the New York State Hospital Review and Planning Council's regulation making the annual influenza vaccination and the forthcoming H1N1 vaccine (Swine Flu) mandatory for state health care workers.
"It makes me feel very vulnerable," a nurse at the rally told ABC News affiliate WHAM in Rochester. "It makes me feel like I'm a guinea pig."
Currently, the voluntary vaccination rates for health care workers average around 50 percent.
"It drives vaccine advocates crazy," said Robert Field, a professor of law and public health at Drexel University.
"For a nurse and a health care worker, it's not just an issue of taking care of yourself -- you're in a position to do particular damage," Field said, referring to a handful of recent cases in which patients in a cardiac care unit died as a result of getting the flu from a nurse.
"In a healthcare institution, there's no magic number for herd immunity," Field added. "Just one person with an infectious case can spread the disease."
All health care workers who have contact with patients in New York are required to get both flu shots or face the possibility of losing their jobs. Only employees with medical issues are exempted, and the rule doesn't apply to those who work in nursing homes.
New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard F. Daines replied to the objections with an open letter, saying "on this (issue), the facts are very clear: the welfare of patients is, without any doubt, best served by the very high rates of staff immunity that can only be achieved with mandatory influenza vaccination -- not the 40-50 percent rates of staff immunization historically achieved with even the most vigorous of voluntary programs."
New York is the first state to require the shots, but the state government is following on the heels of renowned universities and the Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) -- one of the largest hospital management corporations in the country.
Anticipating an ongoing trend, the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) issued a formal opposition Wednesday as "bargaining demands to hospital management and as guidance to regulators and legislators."
"What sort of gets lost in all of this in this rush to mandate these vaccines, is the employers right now aren't even doing the basics to protect the nurses and the patients," said Deborah Burger, a registered nurse and president of the California Nurses Association.
The, CNA/NNOC strongly recommended nurses get the vaccine, but said that they should have the right to refuse it for personal reasons. Burger and the CAN/NNOC charge that employers should institute isolation rooms for patients sick with the flu, allow more sick leave with compensation for nurses and buy the proper masks for patients sick with the H1N1 virus.