October 13, 2009

NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged the New York State Department of Health to withdraw its mandate that all health care workers be vaccinated against both the seasonal flu and the swine flu because it violates the right to privacy of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. The NYCLU instead urged the state to take strong public education steps and adopt a voluntary vaccine protocol.

The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged the New York State Department of Health to withdraw its mandate that all health care workers be vaccinated against both the seasonal flu and the swine flu because it violates the right to privacy of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. The NYCLU instead urged the state to take strong public education steps and adopt a voluntary vaccine protocol.

“The goal of protecting New Yorkers from the effects of the flu is undeniably important, as is the interest of ensuring that our doctors and nurses are healthy enough to work. But individuals have a constitutional right to bodily autonomy,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Forcing competent adults to choose between getting the flu vaccine and getting fired is coercive, invasive and unjustifiably intrudes upon their fundamental rights.”

In a letter sent today to State Health Commissioner Richard Daines and in testimony before the New York State Assembly Committees on Health, Labor, Education, Higher Education and Workplace Safety, the NYCLU said the flu vaccine mandate “conflicts with well established legal principles and public health policy” and “violates the right of competent adults to direct the course of their medical care and treatment.” It also contradicts all international and federal public health directives and undermines public trust; the NYCLU wrote in its letter urging the Department of Health to withdraw the mandate.

Mandating vaccination as a condition of employment is an extreme measure that should be reserved for only the most serious public health emergencies, the NYCLU wrote. But all indications are that the H1N1 flu is no more severe than typical seasonal flu. Neither the World Health Organization nor the Centers for Disease Control has mandated inoculation of health care providers against either the seasonal flu or the H1N1 flu. Voluntary vaccination coupled with good public education and ensuring that vaccines are accessible and free is widely recognized as the best way to reduce transmission rates.

Forced vaccination of health care workers also undermines public health policy and trust in the public health system. The NYCLU has heard from hundreds of health care workers from across the state who are upset about the mandated vaccinations, and media reports have included similar complaints. As reports of health care workers refusing to get the vaccines become public, more New Yorkers may become increasingly reluctant to get the vaccine, needlessly jeopardizing public safety by creating confusion and worry.

“If health care workers are upset about forced vaccinations, what are their patients to think?” Lieberman asked. “Threatening the livelihood of the people we depend on when we’re sick is fundamentally at odds with the trust and cooperation necessary for effective public health policy. This regulation should be withdrawn.”

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