The SEIU Health and Safety team, accompanied by nurses from Healthcare PA, were over at the HHS in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, participating in a hearing/comment session to determine whether we should have mandatory flu vaccination in our healthcare facilities.
The National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) had a subgroup working on the issue of what happens when a facility is not 90% or more vaccinated–can the employer mandate it? Can refusal to comply be met with disciplinary action including anything from being forced to wear a mask for the entirety of a shift to termination?
The subgroup working to prepare the recommendations was comprised of many professionals from different work backgrounds. But ironically that subgroup was replaced (with no warning) by a “leadership committee,” including an employee of a Icagen, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pfizer. The Icagen employee was adamant that Icagen is not part of Pfizer, and that he did not work for Pfizer and never had. (A simple Google search is all it took to see that this guy was, for lack of a better term, full of it.)
Our nurses and Bill Borwegen, SEIU’s Occupational Health and Safety Director, stopped the NVAC from taking a vote on the first day of the two-day hearing. Throughout the hearing, Bill respectfully interrupted people when they were blatantly lying to one another and the community. He showed them copies of procedural laws they were breaking…and called them out about the hijacking of the first group by the new “leadership committee.” “We hadn’t had a meeting in more than five months,” he told the Committee. They fumbled and rumpled and talked under their breaths…and frankly, Sisters and Brothers, it was a brilliant moment of union work where we linked up to fight the right fight.
In the end, the NVAC tabled making a decision until the next day so that they could review various items that were brought to the table. That was a major victory because the vaccination issue is not so simple.
In fact, there are many nuances to the story around mandatory flu vaccination–more so than this space allows. Due to the fact that our nurses linked up with Bill, we were able to insert language about the need for education while stripping language that would have asked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to fine hospitals that fail to report flu vaccination rates. We were able to successfully beat back the original language that told employers to adopt a full-blown flu shot mandate to one that now asks employers to “strongly consider” a flu shot requirement if they don’t achieve a rate of 90% with voluntary efforts, while also adopting employee exemptions for medical and “other reasons.” In addition to the language changes made in the recommendations, the union has been successful in getting OSHA to come out publicly with very strong language opposing any type of flu vaccine mandate.
Deb Bonn, Cathy Stoddart, Starr Romano, and Kim Klinger–all Registered Nurses from Pennsylvania–were with us in person, and many nurses from around the country were with us on the phone lines NVAC opened up. There is no doubt that we made our presence felt and our voices heard.
A must read! An incredibly funny article around the very serious mandatory flu vaccination issue was published in the Akron Beacon (Akron, Ohio). “At Summa, shoot up or hide your face,” by Bob Dyer gives us a rare shot at having a good laugh around the stupidity that is mandatory flu vaccination.