Some states are passing laws to expand the powers of public health authorities to force people to submit to mass immunizations: for example, Pennsylvania House Bill 492 and Massachusetts (WorldNetDaily 10/12/09).
But public health campaigns to get everybody immunized against both seasonal influenza and swine flu (novel H1N1) are running into opposition.
The New York State Department of Health mandate that certain health workers be immunized by Nov 30 or face disciplinary action, including termination, has been put on hold by a state Supreme Court judge.
The Public Employees Union, which represents 15,000 health workers, filed a motion for a restraining order. Similar lawsuits were filed by a group of nurses and New York State United Teachers.
In the past, voluntary campaigns and incentives to encourage influenza immunization have resulted in an immunization rate of 30% to 50%, according to New York State Health Commissioner Richard Daines (Press & Sun-Bulletin 10/16/09).
“These are people who are not government property,” stated Roy Russell, R.N., who left his job with the Binghamton City School District because of a dispute over the mandate. “We are professionals and we know the risks. We are governed by free will, not by Big Brother telling us what we have to do” (ibid.).
The health department plans to contest the lawsuits vigorously on the merits and expects the regulation to be upheld (NY Post 10/16/09).
According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “our guidance is this is a voluntary vaccine” (Wash Post 9/26/09).
Large private hospital chains are, however, mandating the vaccine, purportedly to protect patients and cut absenteeism.
“The contribution of asymptomatic influenza virus infection to transmission among household members, institutional residents, or communities is unknown during seasonal epidemics or pandemics” (Khazeni N, et al. Ann Intern Med 2009;151:464-473).
Additionally, to the best of our knowledge, there are no studies of the relative rates of virus shedding in asymptomatic persons who are vaccinated versus those who are not.
Canadian seasonal influenza vaccination campaigns are being thrown into disarray by a study linking seasonal flu shots to a higher rate of H1N1 influenza. Though the study has been called an “international anomaly,” some provinces are suspending seasonal flu shots for persons under the age of 65. They will concentrate on vaccinating against H1N1, currently the cause of most confirmed influenza cases.
“By the time the H1N1 wave is over, there will be ample time to vaccinate for seasonal flu,” said Dr. Ethan Rubinstein, head of the adult infectious diseases department at the University of Manitoba (Globe and Mail 9/27/09).
In Chandler, Arizona, about three-quarters of firefighters offered an early batch of H1N1 vaccine have refused it. This is a voluntary program (East Valley Tribune 10/18/09). Signs are being posted in Arizona asking the public to support first responders who decline mandatory vaccines.
“Several” reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome in persons who have received H1N1 vaccine have prompted doctors at one Mississippi hospital to advise patients and staff not to get the vaccine.
While most people who decline the vaccine cite safety concerns, some epidemiologists are challenging the medical orthodoxy about the effectiveness of influenza vaccine.
Study after study has claimed that people who get a flu shot in the fall are about half as likely to die that winter—from any cause. Yet influenza accounts for at most 10% of deaths, even when including all illness that influenza might aggravate. Vaccine skeptics argue: “For a vaccine to reduce mortality by 50 percent…means it has to prevent deaths…from falls, fires, heart disease, strokes, and car accidents. That’s not a vaccine, that’s a miracle” (Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, “Shots in the Dark,” Atlantic, November 2009).
The “healthy user effect” could largely account for reduced mortality, argue Brownlee and Lenzer, but authorities say it would be unethical to do double-blind, placebo-controlled studies—since we “know” that the vaccines work.
The official position of AAPS is that vaccines, like other medical treatments, should be voluntary.
AAPS has posted an internet survey on www.aapsonline.org of physicians’ intentions regarding taking H1N1 vaccine themselves.