Nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who oppose a policy of mandatory flu vaccines are doing their patients and their own health a disservice. The evidence cited by Trish Powers, chairperson of the bargaining unit for the Massachusetts Nurses Association at the Brigham, was wrongly applied (“Nurses know flu vaccine can do harm,” Letters, Sept. 29).
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is a national vaccine surveillance program cosponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. It functions to collect and analyze data, but it does not report vaccine safety and does not distinguish between coincidental events and events actually caused by a vaccine. In fact, “serious health risks” caused by the flu vaccine are rare.
Powers fails to explain that developing immunity from the vaccine, which in some years may have a “low effective rate,” nonetheless markedly reduces the risk of being hospitalized or of dying from influenza.
More important, Powers fails to appreciate that an infected nurse might inadvertently expose large numbers of hospitalized patients, some of whom may be severely immunocompromised and therefore more likely to succumb to influenza. Staying “home when ill,” as she suggests, does not protect patients because diseases such as influenza are transmissible before an infected individual develops symptoms.
Health care workers have a responsibility to protect themselves and the patients around whom they work. Members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association should be disappointed that their union misunderstands the science behind vaccination and its safety.
The writers are pediatricians in private practice.