Vaccines have had a hard go with some of the public lately. The ongoing battle with anti-vaccination advocates seems to be intensifying, with the alleged autism link still persisting and a new issue opening up in worldwide thimerosal use in vaccines. Mandatory influenza vaccination for healthcare workers is yet another front.
I recently read an editorial from the Chicago Tribune that called for making seasonal influenza vaccinations mandatory for health care workers. To date, only a few states have made vaccination mandatory. The debate about mandatory vaccination is an important one: On the one hand this intervention has the potential to reduce the number of people getting sick and dying from seasonal influenza; on the other hand, it involves an exercise of government and/or employer power over individuals. Understanding this trade-off and addressing the concerns of those opposed to mandatory vaccinations will be key for advocates if they hope to be successful in their work.
To get a better sense of popular opinion regarding this measure, I did something I wouldn’t normally do: I studied the reader comments for the editorial. There was actually a pretty good back-and-forth going, and the comments highlighted several concerns and objections that people had with mandatory vaccination.
Among commenters’ concerns:
These are all valid concerns, and they can be addressed by the public health community:
These are not comprehensive responses, but they do cover a lot of the concerns I’ve seen on this topic. It’s important that we, as the public health community, continue to address the concerns of the population, and to stay on our talking points. Simply passing a law mandating influenza vaccination may work in the short term, but convincing people of its merits will better ensure the law is not simply repealed in a storm of backlash later on.
This blog was prepared by Chris Walker, J.D., Staff Attorney at the Network for Public Health Law -- Northern Region at the William Mitchell College of Law.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. The views expressed in this blog do not represent those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.