By Gloria Lloyd
Protesters took to Kennerly Road outside Mercy Hospital South — formerly St. Anthony’s Medical Center — last week to protest the hospital’s decision to fire a nurse who refused to get a flu shot.
In online videos, Nelia Abuchon said she organized the Nov. 27 protest to support her friend, a nurse who worked at the hospital for five years and was denied a religious exemption from the hospital’s mandatory flu shot policy. Signs lined up outside said “No mercy from Mercy” and “No mandated meds.” It was not clear whether any current Mercy employees were among the roughly 20 protesters lined up along Kennerly Road.
Abuchon said that before Mercy took over St. Anthony’s, the nurse had always been granted a religious exemption. But Mercy denied the nurse’s religious reasons for avoiding the flu shot and fired her Nov. 26.
In a statement, Mercy said: “The point of our flu vaccination policy is simple: protection against the flu virus saves lives, especially those of our most vulnerable patients. Requiring health care co-workers to be vaccinated for the flu is a best practice across the U.S. to ensure the safety of patients, co-workers and community members. Mercy revised our flu vaccination policy several years ago and requires compliance with the policy by all Mercy co-workers as a condition of employment.”
Even if someone does not get the flu themselves, they can act as a flu carrier and transmit the virus to hospital patients.
Among those most at risk of getting the flu are the elderly and those whose immune systems are already compromised.
Among more than 44,000 employees, the hospital system only received about 170 requests for exemption, and it granted the majority of them, Mercy stated.
Both Mercy, which was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, and St. Anthony’s have religious ties.
“Those co-workers whose exemption requests were not accepted will be notified this week and, in accordance with our policy, will not be permitted to remain employed without receiving a vaccination,” Mercy said. “This is an important step in protecting our patients, visitors and co-workers.”
A spokesman declined to say how many employees had been fired by the end of the week for not meeting the policy.
Abuchon questioned whether any employees were given waivers for the flu shot.
“Mercy has a policy that says that they accept religious and medical exemptions, but in practice they seem to be denying them,” she said. “Here at Mercy South, this nurse (who was fired) knows of no other nurse or doctor who was granted a religious exemption.”
In Facebook Live videos streamed by national anti-vaccine pages, supporters quoted medical research on the effects of the flu shot that have been dismissed by the mainstream medical community.
“We need to stop the forced vaccination and give people the freedom that they deserve and have a right to,” one woman said. “This is ridiculous – to lose your job over not wanting to be assaulted with aluminum and foreign DNA.”
But medical experts say there is no aluminum in the common flu shot. Only one type of flu vaccine contains aluminum, and in much smaller amounts than what people will eat in foods like spinach, tea and potatoes.
The Centers for Disease Control, or the CDC, notes that flu is a contagious illness that can sometimes lead to death, especially in older and sicker patients. Complications can include other serious illnesses like pneumonia.
The most important step to preventing the flu is getting a flu shot every year, the CDC says.
“Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death,” according to the CDC’s information.
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies every year because the flu virus changes and adapts year to year. Scientists have to predict ahead of time which flu strains will be more “popular” months later. But even in years where the flu shot is not as effective, it can reduce the likelihood that the person getting the shot will get the flu and pass it to someone else.