NEW YORK NURSE: November 2009
by Nancy Webber
The escalating outcry against mandatory influenza vaccinations came to a sudden, unexpected stop on Oct. 22 when Gov. David Paterson announced that the state was suspending the emergency regulation.
In his late-afternoon statement, Paterson said that New York would receive only 23% of its anticipated H1N1 influenza vaccine supply by the end of October. “We must make sure that those who are at the highest risk for complications from the H1N1 flu receive the first vaccine being distributed right now in New York State,” he added.
Children and young adults between the ages of 6 months and 24 years are the most susceptible to the novel virus. Pregnant women are also vulnerable to the illness.
The state Department of Health (DOH) has indicated that it does not plan to reinstitute the emergency rule, but will continue to seek a permanent regulation through its authority to dictate how hospitals are operated within the state.
“Our work continues,” said Tina Gerardi, NYSNA chief executive officer. “It gives us an opportunity to work with the health department to develop a plan that will both protect patients and preserve the civil rights of nurses and other healthcare personnel.”
“The most effective way to prevent the spread of influenza in hospitals is a voluntary immunization program, coupled with comprehensive, effective infection control policies that provide appropriate education and equipment,” Gerardi continued.
The state’s mandatory vaccination program was unprecedented and ultimately unworkable. NYSNA nurses attending Practice Focus Group meetings in early October at Convention reported that some employers were putting staff on unpaid administrative leave if they refused to be vaccinated.
Others were preparing to fire staff who did not comply.
NYSNA had requested “impact bargaining” at more than 100 facilities over the effect of the regulation on nurse members.
“This policy was more of a fight against nurses than a fight against disease,” said Thomas Lowe, NYSNA occupational safety and health representative. “A motivational approach is much more effective in increasing vaccine acceptance rates among healthcare personnel.”
Several nurses were angry enough to take legal action. NYSNA member Suzanne Field filed suit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction against the DOH. NYSNA members and staff were prominent in the courtroom during the first hearing on Field’s case on Oct. 14.
A group of nurses from Albany filed a similar suit in that city, resulting in the issuance of a temporary restraining order against the state on Oct. 16. NYSNA was preparing to file an amicus brief in support of legal actions filed by the Public Employees Federation (PEF) and the New York State United Teachers. Legal proceedings halted when the emergency rule was lifted.
“After what happened this year, state officials have a better idea of how workers will react,” said Gerardi. “And we know how much education will be necessary to increase voluntary participation.”
Detailed information about the flu vaccine will continue to be updated at www.nysna.org, where nurse also can access a new webinar about influenza and its prevention.
The 40-minute presentation, “Fact or Fiction: Information on H1N1 and Seasonal Flu,” is available free of charge until Dec. 1 and offers 0.8 contact hour. This self-paced module is for healthcare personnel interested in learning more about the H1N1 virus and the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines.
You’ll find the course in the “Continuing Education” section at www.nysna.org.