By Alicia Ault
WebMD Health News
Dec. 4, 2018 -- An unidentified nurse who was allegedly fired for refusing a flu shot drew the attention of protesters, who rallied in support of what they said was a violation of her rights.
Mercy Hospital South in St. Louis allegedly fired the nurse on November 26 for refusing to comply with the hospital's rule that all employees be vaccinated for the flu, according to a Facebook posting by a colleague, Nelia Aubuchon, who organized the protest.
The news comes as the CDC recently reported that vaccination rates among health care workers have plateaued over the past 4 years at 74%. Rates are highest -- 95% -- in workplaces that require vaccination. About two-thirds of hospitals now require a flu vaccination, according to a study published in June.
Mercy would not comment directly on the alleged firing but said in a statement that the hospital company -- which has facilities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma -- revised its flu vaccination policy several years ago and that it "requires compliance with the policy by all Mercy co-workers as a condition of employment."
Mercy Hospital South spokeswoman Bethany Pope added that the policy aims to save lives, "especially those of our most vulnerable patients."
Protecting vulnerable patients is the reason for universal health care worker vaccination, and that reason trumps conscience objections, said Arthur Caplan, PhD, founding head of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine and a contributor to Medscape.
"Private entities can say that they have public health and patient protection obligations that require vaccinations, and override the individual's decisions, for whatever reason," he said. "In a health care setting with a specific mission to protect vulnerable people, I think the case is very strong that you can fire people who don't follow rules of protection."