Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Majority of Heathcare Workers Refuse the Flu Shot, Government Recommends Mandating It

It’s been freezing at night here in southern Oregon and there was a carpet of white frost on the grass this morning when I woke the kids up for school.

Winter is on its way.

As is the flu.

Yet according to an article published November 3, 2011 on MedPage Today, a federal advisory committee on vaccines is recommending that hospitals consider mandating the flu vaccine for their employees.


Because the majority of healthcare workers ignore public health recommendations to get the flu vaccine and forego the flu shot.

Only about 40 percent of healthcare workers get the shot. About sixty percent do not.

During the media blitz about the dangers of the H1N1 virus, that number rose a bit, with 62 percent of healthcare workers getting a shot.

So the government’s National Vaccine Advisory Committee is considering forcing healthcare workers to submit to a shot they do not want.

Why would the majority of people in the business of keeping others healthy rejet the flu shot?

Could it be because:

1) The flu shot has very little proven efficacy.

In one new meta-analysis, the most popular form of the flu shot—the trivalent inactivated vaccine—had an efficacy rate of 59 percent in people ages 18 – 64. That means that 41 percent of the people who get that shot will also get the flu. Even worse, there was no usable data for children ages 2 – 17 or people over 64.

2) Healthcare workers understand that there are more effective ways to boost your immune system than the flu vaccine.

Why is it that several people with the same vaccine status can get exposed to the same virus but only some of those people will get sick?

Eating wholesome foods, getting enough sleep, washing your hands thoroughly, exercising, reducing your stress levels, having good intimate relationships, and having been breastfed as a baby are all of tremendous importance in building your body’s resistance to disease.

3) Healthcare workers are more concerned about the vaccine’s notorious and terrible side effects than about getting the flu.

As one commenter on the MedPage article writes:

“I had a patient who was bedridden for the rest of his life at age 45 that he blames on the flu shot. He had Guillain–Barré syndrome and after 10 years in nursing facilities he also developed tardive dyskinesia from the drugs used to control this big strong man. How many hospitals that mandated the flu shot kept records of the major and minor reactions?”

4) There is no real evidence that vaccinating all hospital staff will actually reduce the number of patients with the flu.

As the MedPage article points out, “Studies that have attempted to prove healthcare worker vaccination improves patient health have mostly been performed in nursing homes, which are very different than the patient population in a hospital…”

5) Perhaps healthcare professionals don’t believe the protection afforded by the vaccine is worth the co-pay they would have to spend to get vaccinated.

Actions speak louder than words.

Maybe they don’t have time.

Maybe they can’t be bothered.

But if healthcare professionals can’t be bothered to take the time to be vaccinated, what does that say about their real feelings about the importance and efficacy of vaccines?

Chris Feudtner, MD, PhD, MPH, a pediatrician, epidemiologist, and ethicist, believes by mandating the vaccine, hospitals may be avoiding the real issue:

Why would healthcare workers choose not to be vaccinated in the first place?

Related posts:
No Shot No School
Why You Should Question Vaccines For Your Children
Of Mainstream Media, Hate Mail, and Vaccines: A Response to Frontline’s “Vaccine War”

Jennifer Margulis is a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Her book, The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby BEFORE Their Bottom Line, includes a detailed exhaustively referenced chapter on the current CDC childhood vaccination schedule.

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Categories: vaccines.


  1. Perhaps an enterprising journalist will video interviews of healthcare workers and ask them about the vaccine stats among healthcare workers, their personal choices and the rationale behind them.

    The term “healthcare worker” is too loose. Perhaps there is data that show the delineation between the vaccine participation among doctors, surgeons, nurses, aides, etc. Perhaps data may further indicate the various types of vaccines that may be more of less popular among the various health care community groups.

    The issue seems important enough that funding can underwrite a serious inquiry to get the answers.
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  3. Amy

    I’m curious about where the date is found? Vaccinations are such an interesting (and hot) topic that I imagine there is plenty of evidence to support arguments on both sides.

    • Amy, I’m not sure which data you are asking about. But the numbers about how many medical professionals are refusing the shots are compiled by a subcommittee of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, which I believe they get from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), so those are government statistics.

      The vaccine efficacy data comes from a Cochrane Library meta-analysis. They synthesize scientific data to the best of their ability and tend to be considered the most reliable source.

      You can find an enormous amount of information about the flu vaccine–by reading scientific articles (many of the studies are industry-funded, though that does not necessarily invalidate them), by reading the package inserts, and by looking at the CDC website, as well as the government health sites from other countries.

      One reader emailed me to say he thinks the efficacy numbers are greatly inflated.

      I fear he might be right.

      The flu vaccine is manufactured in advance of the flu season, when it is impossible to tell which viruses will be in circulation (it’s a bit like predicting the weather). As any vaccine proponent will tell you, when there is a bad match between the virus strains in the vaccine and the viruses in circulation, the vaccine efficacy goes down. On the CDC’s site for doctors you will see that some years the vaccine efficacy is actually zero, because of this kind of mismatch.

      I’ve been researching this topic for over a year, both because I have a chapter on vaccines in the book I am writing and because I have a 5,000-word article about pregnancy and the flu vaccine that is coming out soon on

      If you would like PDFs of some of the scientific studies and opinion pieces written by doctors about pregnancy and the flu vaccine, please email me and I’ll be glad to forward you what I have.

  4. michael

    The medical/Pharma community relies on using percent values to convey efficacy for drug interventions including vaccinations. These “relative” percent values automatically inflate, overstate the true efficacy. This is common when it becomes obvious to researchers, to resort to relative percent differences opposed to absolute differences.

    The 60% efficacy (40% ineffective) for the trivalent flu vaccine touted in the media are derived from the recent Lancet study. But stating those efficacy numbers more accurately and honestly in absolute differences: For every 100 people vaccinated for flu, 1.5 people will benefit. These real numbers come from the fact that 97% of the people studied did not get the flu.

    For a more detailed explanation go to:

  5. Jerri Swan

    I cringe every time I see chain drugstores advertising the flu vaccine to pregnant women. Personally I felt very vulnerable during pregnancy and had an innate sense not to put anything into my body other than food. And I did get the flu, but so what? My OB talked about the flu shot but did not give me a hard time when I declined. I feel bad for mothers who don’t feel they have a choice in this matter. If doctors aren’t getting the flu shot, why should pregnant women?

  6. Sandy Boyd

    I have worked in an ER for 10 years. I have never gotten a flu shot, and have never gotten the flu even though my exposure is probably higher than most because of my work environment. I have done research and do not want the flu vaccine, but this year my work is mandating it or get fired. They are accepting medical and religious exemptions but not many are being approved. They ask for a letter from your priest or religious leader. I will soon be unemployed because as I have said, I have done research and not just on the CDC site and the flu shot is not for me or my family. I can’t believe this can happen in the United States of America.

  7. michael

    Sandy, I don’t know if this will help, but in Oregon, the definition for religion found in the Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR’s), states: “any system of beliefs, practices, or ethical values”. There is no permission from God, a priest, or anyone. If your “system of beliefs” doesn’t include vaccinations, then you qualify for a religious exemption as codified in the OAR’s

  8. My mother didn’t believe in flu shots and because I was allergic to eggs as a child, she cautioned me against it when I went to college. I never had the shot, and I never had the flu …. until I moved to the US, had babies, and the fear of death was put into me by my pediatric office. I only listened twice.

    We have a friend whose daughter has severe asthma and is prone to pneumonia. In her case, I can understand why her parents choose to give her a flu shot each year. I’ve also heard a few horror stories of healthy, young people becoming severely ill from influenza – one even died in his 20s.

    But statistically, most healthy people don’t need it. IN addition to good hygiene and diet, there are homeopathic ways to fight and ward off the flu.

    There are also a ton of viruses that mimic the flu. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe that during the H1N1 outbreak, there was a new virus circulating at the same time. When one hospital actually tested their ‘H1N1″ kids patients, they were carrying a super cold bug, not the flu.

    People are not adequately educated on this one. In my town, if you don’t get the shot people look at you like you are crazy – endangering the health of an entire community.

    • Where did you grow up, Shari?

      People don’t realize that influenza is NOT tested for. When it is, the vast majority of the time the virus making someone sick is not a strain of influenza that is in the vaccine.

      Here’s a quote from my forthcoming article about this:

      “When Canada’s Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control tested over 46,000 people presenting flu-like symptoms in the winter season of 2002–2003, they found that 92.9 percent of those symptoms were caused by viruses other than influenza.”

      [Public Health Agency of Canada, “Statement on Influenza Vaccination for the 2003–2004 Season,” Canada Communicable Disease Report 29, ACS-4 (15 August 2003).]

  9. Lucy

    I have only had one vaccine in my whole entire life, which was for Tetanus when I sliced my foot in half last summer and they thought I might be getting infected. I hardly ever get sick and when I do, it’s not ever anything serious.

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