CANTON, Mass. — Some hospitals require flu shots as a condition of employment. Could they make the same requirement once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved?
"This is a choice that every nurse, every health care worker will have to make for themselves, and should have the right to make for themselves," said Dr. Judith Pare of the Massachusetts Nurses Association [MNA]. "Ultimately, that might, down the road, influence where they work. That is the reality."
“The reality is a COVID-19 vaccine is still at least several months away, if not much longer. And when one hits the market, it will likely be in somewhat short supply, making mandates, at least in the short term, unlikely,” said Christine Pontus, the Associate Director of Health and Safety for the MNA. “We don’t see that right now. But it could happen down the line.”
COVID-19 vaccine development is moving at an unprecedented pace.
"They're moving quickly, there's no doubt. They've moved much faster than what we would have even anticipated 60 days ago," Pontus said.
And the rapidity of development is what concerns two nurses who Boston 25 contacted. They wished to remain anonymous. Neither wanted to be immunized with a vaccine approved after possibly less than a year of development.
“It will be a dirty vaccine and it’s not being studied enough,” one nurse said. “There’s not enough research to show it’s safe.”
"I would not take the vaccine yet. It was created too fast, rushed by the government. I'm not sure about safety," the other added.
But to Trish Powers, a nurse at Brigham and Women's Hospital, an effective vaccine will mean peace of mind. Last spring, she spent eight weeks caring for COVID patients, an experience she describes as more frightening than caring for injured people in Haiti, after one of that country's devastating earthquakes.
"Working in the COVID units were the worst nursing shifts of my career," Powers said. "If I get the vaccine and it's successful, that's going to give me more protection. And if it works, my family's more protected."
Powers is actually enrolled in clinical trials for one of the leading vaccination candidates, the messenger-RNA product under development by Cambridge-based Moderna. She has yet to be dosed but hopes it will happen soon.
"I believe there could be a surge here in the fall or sooner if people's behavior doesn't change," she said.
So far, the MNA hasn't taken in complaints about the possibility of forced COVID vaccinations, but the organization is ready.
"If we hear from members that they are feeling intimidated or threatened or their jobs may be in jeopardy if they choose not to be vaccinated, the other strong arm of our organization is our ability to advocate," Dr. Pare said. "We will be with them to advocate."
But Dr. Pare said what will drive anything the organization recommends on the vaccine will be science, specifically the compound's safety and efficacy.
“If we have a vaccine that is ready to be dispensed and safely distributed then we will look at the science behind that vaccine and the protections that the hospitals and other healthcare organizations have to put in place for our nurses,” she said.
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