North Carolina’s largest hospital network has fired around 175 employees for not getting vaccinated against the flu. The North Carolina Hospital Corporation NCHC made this decision in response to the state’s new vaccine law, which requires healthcare workers to get their shots or be terminated from employment. According to the NCHC, about 20% of its workforce haven’t been immunized and that number was too high for them to stay in compliance with the law.
The hospital network has stated that the vaccinations are not mandatory, which means employees will be given the option of getting their shots. However, if they choose to refuse vaccination, they would have to wear a mask while at work. So far around 1,400 NCHC employees have received their flu vaccine and about 25% of them were forced to do so, due to their position.
The law went into effect on October 1st and allows state health officials to require mandatory vaccinations or face-masks for healthcare workers who haven’t been vaccinated. The law did not specify the consequences of refusing vaccination, but it allowed for them to be terminated by their employers.
Although the vaccination is not mandatory, the law requires hospitals to offer it to their employees. It also states that healthcare facilities may require its workers who have direct patient-care with people who are vulnerable to the flu virus, especially young children and senior citizens, to get vaccinated against it or wear a mask during work hours.
The state passed the law after the number of flu cases reported in North Carolina during the 2013-2014 season reached 2,211. During the 2014-2015 season, this number jumped to 8,990. The law was passed after public health experts stated that better vaccination rates could reduce the number of flu cases significantly.
NCHC officials claimed they had no choice but to pass the law because it would protect their patients from contracting or carrying the virus. According to a 2014 CDC report, 47% of healthcare workers didn’t get vaccinated against the flu. The same report stated that those employees were more likely to come to work even if they had a fever and respiratory symptoms.
In other words, those employees transformed their workplaces into a “petri dish” for bacteria and viruses. This led to them infecting their patients with the flu virus, while at work or while they were still contagious before showing symptoms. The report also stated that vaccinated employees are less likely to spread the illness than unvaccinated ones, who may carry it without actually having symptoms.
One of the NCHC’s employees, who asked to remain anonymous because she wasn’t authorized to speak about the law due to confidentiality issues, said that she failed to get herself vaccinated this year. She told reporters that she decided against it because her three children didn’t have their flu shot yet and she was afraid of catching it from them. She also stated that her doctor said she is healthy and not at risk of getting the flu.
She didn’t want to wear a mask as an alternative because the law doesn’t require it from people with conditions such as asthma or those on steroid medications. Not wearing it would even be a problem, since she works in a unit that cares for people with asthma, she added.
Despite this, she said that it was a smart decision by the NCHC to enforce the law because it would decrease the number of flu cases significantly. Another employee stated that he decided to get vaccinated as an alternative to wearing a mask and also because his children had gotten theirs already.
Although the law requires healthcare facilities to offer flu vaccinations to employees, it doesn’t require them to get one. However, healthcare facilities are required by the NCHC to set reasonable policies on flu vaccination for employees.
It also states that the employer may not discriminate against an employee for refusing vaccination or wearing a mask if they haven’t been vaccinated. The law states that it is illegal for employers to threaten, discipline or discharge” employees who do refuse vaccination or wear a mask.