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By Sarah Foster
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
October 1, 2009

About 200 healthcare workers rallied on the steps of the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., while hundreds more demonstrated at similar events throughout the state, demanding “freedom of choice in vaccination and health care,” and protesting new regulations by the Dept. of Health that mandate all healthcare workers with patient contact receive CDC “recommended” seasonal and swine-flu vaccination or lose their jobs.

Protesters at the Capitol carried hand-made signs proclaiming: "We're not lab rats," and "No flu shot, no job?"

The August 13 regulations require all healthcare workers who "could potentially expose patients" must be vaccinated for influenza by November 30 unless it would be "detrimental" to the recipient's health. Any reprieve would be temporary and last only until injection with the vaccine would "no longer be detrimental,” says Declan McCullagh, reporting for CBS.

McCullagh asks an obvious question: “Under what circumstances can government officials order mandatory vaccination? And could the general public be ordered to roll up their sleeves for injections, even if there might be side effects beyond a sore arm or mild fever? The concern in New York comes at a time when skepticism of vaccination in general seems to be on the rise.”

The New York State Nurses Association, which represents 37,000 nurses, supports opposition to mandatory vaccination.

"We as an organization have not questioned the safety of the vaccine," said Nancy Webber, spokeswoman for the association. "We see this as an issue of workers' rights."

The Public Employees Federation, which represents 9,000 nurses statewide and 3,000 health care workers - nurses and others - at Stony Brook alone, agrees with the nurses' group.

Nurses say they were never consulted before officials wrote the regulation.

Groups organizing the three-hour-long event in Albany included Campaign For Liberty and the Autism Action Network, which said it plans to sue the state on the issue. Speakers directed objections towards mandatory vaccination in general, but particularly against the vaccine for H1N1 (swine flu), which has only recently been approved by the FDA and which many consider was not sufficiently tested to ensure safety.

"This vaccine [for H1N1] has not been clinically tested to the same degree as the regular flu vaccine," Tara Accavallo, a registered nurse on Long Island, told Newsday. "If something happens to me, if I get seriously injured from this vaccine, who's going to help me?"

Big PHARMA “Immunized” against Lawsuits

Good question. Accavallo was apparently referring to the decree signed by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in July in which she invoked the 2006 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREPA) to grant both government officials and vaccine makers total legal immunity from any lawsuits resulting from any new “swine flu” vaccine. The law was passed in an attempt to head off lawsuits like those filed in 1976, when an attempt was made to provide mass-vaccinations against a swine-flu epidemic that never materialized, but thousands suffered adverse reactions – including Guillain-Barré syndrome – from the shots.

The New York state mandate for healthcare workers is part of larger, nationwide – even worldwide — effort. Public health officials are gearing up for a mass swine flu immunization campaign, first targeting children, pregnant women, and medical workers, according to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

The AAPS reports that the U.S. government has purchased 195 million doses of swine flu vaccine, and contracted for 120 million doses of adjuvants to stretch the vaccine supply. The production process in eggs is yielding two to four times less viral antigen from H1N1 flu than from seasonal strains.

AAPS asks: “Is this really necessary to prevent a replay of the 1918 influenza epidemic, with up to 350 million deaths worldwide instead of 50–100 million? Or is it 1976 all over again, when swine flu immunizations had to be terminated because the dreaded epidemic failed to occur, but thousands suffered adverse reactions, including Guillain-Barré syndrome, from the shots?”

Besides concerns over its safety, questions are being asked as to whether it’s certain the vaccine will even work. Development has been so fast there’s not been enough time for thorough evaluation.

“There's no proof this vaccine will protect us from swine flu or protect us from spreading it to others," said Sue Field of Poughkeepsie, a speaker at the event. Field, a registered nurse who works in a hospital maternity ward, was a primary organizer of Tuesday’s rally.

She explained there are other things health-care workers can do to help prevent patients from getting sick, such as not allowing them to have visitors with contagious illnesses.

Deborah Gerhardt, a 37-year-old registered nurse from Wayne County, told reporters in Albany that deciding whether to get an injection should be a personal choice. Just because the FDA approved the H1N1 vaccine "doesn't mean it's safe in my book," she said.

"Where is this so-called emergency situation that is wreaking havoc?" asked Gerhardt, who works at Brighton Surgery Center and Rochester General Hospital. "The real havoc is New York State is taking our jobs away for no reason at all."


Cherryl Robbins, a 33-year-old patient-care technician, agreed, saying it’s hard to understand why – in troubled times like these -- health-care workers are being forced to choose between what they think is right for their bodies and what they do for a living.

Robbins has a particular reason for concern: she is 22 weeks pregnant with her first child.

"Up until this year, the choice to forego the vaccine has been there for me," Robbins explained. "This year, at a time when I'm pregnant with my first child, and I feel more responsibility for what I put in my body than at any other point in my life, that choice has been taken away from me."

Robbins has good reason for concern. "The effects of the new vaccine on pregnancy outcome or long-term effects on the fetus cannot be known,” says AAPS. And the New York Times reports that the human papillomavirus vaccine (gardasil) may be associated with an increased miscarriage rate in women who received it less than 3 months before conceiving, an unanticipated consequence. That could be the case with the H1N1 vaccine. No one really knows.

New York State is the first state in the nation to make vaccination against H1N1 and seasonal influenza a condition of employment for health care workers. Legislation is being considered to make it mandatory for nursing home employees as well.

As it stands, some 500,000 health care workers are slated to receive the vaccine.

Dr. Richard Daines, state health commissioner, discounts concerns expressed by the protesters and their allies, and at a press conference following the rally told reporters that vaccines are safe and vaccination is the most effective way to prevent the flu. Years of voluntary vaccines for flu led to vaccination levels of between 30 and 50 percent of health-care workers, which is not high enough to provide “herd immunity” -- protection to the remaining unvaccinated population, Daines explained.

"This isn't the time to pump air into a completely deflated argument about vaccine safety," he said.

The swine flu vaccine will be available beginning next week, but there are growing concerns about requiring inoculations. According to a New York Times report, the regulation was strongly protested by New York's largest healthcare union, 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East, whose president, George Gresham, said that the policy was "completely unprecedented" and could become punitive if the religious or cultural beliefs of workers prevented them from being vaccinated.

The Public Employees Federation, which represents health-care workers, wants the regulation reversed, union President Ken Brynien said in a statement. There are reports that some employees at institutions where vaccines are mandated have retired or been fired because they refuse to get it, he said.

"No other state mandates vaccination for influenza, nor has the federal government done so. New York health care workers should not be used to test an unproven policy," he said.

State and Institutional Mandates

Although the New York is the first state to make vaccination a condition of employment, some other states have mandatory vaccination laws; these include Alabama, Arkansas, California, and Kentucky. However, in these states, the laws provide for exemptions through which healthcare workers can forego vaccination because of religious or medical reasons (Alabama and Kentucky); in California, healthcare workers can decline for any reason if the refusal is made in writing. The New York requirement is, to date, the most stringent among the states, Medscape reports.

Moreover, various institutions require that their employees get vaccinated. For example: the Barnes Jewish Corporation HealthCare in Missouri, the University of Iowa Hospitals, and Grady, a large hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Grady officials told Medscape similar mandates could follow for healthcare workers to take the H1N1 influenza vaccine as it becomes available.

Sebelius has announced the FDA's approval of vaccine made by four of the expected five manufacturers: CSL Ltd. of Australia, Switzerland's Novartis Vaccines, Sanofi Pasteur of France — which produces flu shots at its Swiftwater, Pa., factory — and Maryland-based MedImmune LLC, which makes the only nasal-spray flu vaccine. The identity of the fifth manufacturer has not been released pending completion of testing, but it’s expected that it will be GlaxoSmithKline.

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The move to protect makers of a swine flu vaccine has not gone over well with Paul Pennock, a prominent New York plaintiff’s attorney who handles medical liability cases. The government will likely call on millions of Americans to get the vaccinations to prevent the disease from spreading, he told Associated Press.

"If you're going to ask people to do this for the common good, then let's make sure for the common good that these people will be taken care of if something goes wrong," Pennock said.

Earlier stories

1 - Bill Sardi: 18 Reasons Why You Should Not Vaccinate Your Children Against the Flu, Sept. 27, 2009. Another article.
2 - Byron Richards: The Narrow Scope of Flu Vaccine Usefulness, Sept. 9, 2009
3 - Shane Ellison: Medicinal Chemist Says: "Think Before You Vaccinate" Sept. 3, 2009
4 - Devvy Kidd: Mandatory Vaccinations? Tell Feds and States to 'Stick It' Aug. 24, 2009 (Extensive list of links to reference reports and articles at end)
5 - Bill Sardi: Did the Federal Gov't Hide a Flu Epidemic in 1993 and Why? Aug. 17, 2009
6 - Sarah Foster: Eighteen Deaths Linked to Gardasil Vaccine Report Claims, July 17, 2008

Links to Articles and Related Resources

1 - NY State Dept. of Health: Regulation Requiring Influenza Vaccination of Health Care Personnel, Aug. 13, 2009
2 - Tiburnon Statement, Nov. 2007
3 - Richard Daines, N.Y. State Health Commissioner: Media Release: Mandatory Flu Vaccine for Health Care Workers: Sept. 24, 2009
4 - Declan McCullagh: Health Care Workers Protest Mandatory H1N1 Vaccination: CBS News, Sept. 29, 2009
5 - Jennifer McLogan: N.Y. Health-Care Workers Revolt Over H1N1 Vaccine:, Sept. 30, 2009
6 - Jane Akre: N.Y. State: Be Vaccinated or Be Fired: National News Desk,, Sept. 29, 2009
7 - USA Today: H1N1 and Seasonal Flu: Multiple Doses, Many Questions, Sept. 15, 2009
8 - Cara Matthews: N.Y. Health-Care Workers Protest Mandatory H1N1 Flu Shots: USA Today, Sept. 29, 2009
9 - Delthia Ricks: Long Island Nurses to Rally Against Mandatory Swine-Flu Vaccines,, Sept. 21, 2009
11 -

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Sarah Foster is a researcher and freelance writer:











About 200 healthcare workers rallied on the steps of the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., while hundreds more demonstrated at similar events throughout the state, demanding “freedom of choice in vaccination and health care,”