In an era when anonymous internet trolls are accorded equal credibility with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, truth, as they say, is still getting its boots on. Myths about the supposed hazards of vaccines have only gained momentum in recent years, with a significant minority of Americans convinced vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they can prevent.
Those who reject flu, measles-mumps-rubella and other immunizations endanger themselves, their children and others. Their private decisions have public consequences, allowing once-all-but-eradicated diseases such as measles to threaten a resurgence and eroding the “herd immunity” that prevents epidemics.
In Indiana, the challenge is most visible in late autumn and early winter, when the struggle to persuade Hoosiers to get a flu shot begins. The flu kills scores of people in our state each year; thousands more are hospitalized or incapacitated for days. Those who care about the future can only hope the truth will prevail: Vaccines don't endanger us, but protect us.
In the meantime, health care providers can't be allowed the refuge of ignorance or indifference. The Journal Gazette's Matthew LeBlanc and Sherry Slater reported Sunday that Indiana is one of 32 states that don't require health care workers to be vaccinated against the flu or hospitals to have plans for who must receive flu shots.
Many health professionals argue that the issue shouldn't require legislation. Dixie Platt, vice president of communications and federal relations for the Indiana Hospital Association, told LeBlanc and Slater allowing hospitals to work with health officials to set their worker vaccination rules is a better course. Platt noted almost 92% of Indiana health care workers are vaccinated against the flu – higher than the national rate.
Though they allow exemptions for medical or religious reasons, Parkview and IU Health require all personnel at their hospitals, clinics and physicians offices to have seasonal flu shots.
But though Lutheran Health Network encourages its employees to be immunized, spokeswoman Kara Stevenson said the network considers whether or not to have a flu shot to be “each person's choice.”
It's not clear how many other hospitals within the state rely on a do-the-right-thing policy toward employee vaccinations. But in our view, getting a flu shot to prevent the spread of the disease within health facilities shouldn't be optional.
It could endanger patients' health, and it feeds the loony myth that vaccines are somehow more of a problem than the diseases they prevent.
Should Lutheran toughen its policy on flu vaccinations for employees? Would you be comfortable being treated by a medical worker who hasn't been immunized? Should other businesses that serve the public require their employees to have the flu shot?
Share your thoughts by email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail: Letters to the editor, The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802