October 16, 2009, 12:58 pm
Judge Halts Mandatory Flu Vaccines for Health Care Workers
By Sewell Chan AND Anemona Hartocollis
Daniel Barry for The New York Times Dr. Richard F. Daines, the state health commissioner, issued the vaccination requirement in August.
Updated, 4:21 p.m. | A judge on Friday morning halted enforcement of a New York State directive requiring that all health care workers be vaccinated for the seasonal flu and swine flu.
The temporary restraining order by the judge, Thomas J. McNamara, an acting justice of the State Supreme Court in Albany, comes amid a growing debate about the flu vaccine. On Friday afternoon, the State Department of Health vowed to fight the restraining order, saying that the authorities “have clear legal authority” to require vaccinations, and noted that state courts had upheld mandatory vaccinations of health care workers against rubella and tuberculosis. Justice McNamara scheduled a hearing for Oct. 30 on the three cases before him, involving the flu vaccine.
The state health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, through the State Hospital Review and Planning Council, issued a regulation on Aug. 13 ordering health care workers to be vaccinated by Nov. 30 or face fines.
Dr. Daines later explained the reasoning behind the vaccine, saying in a statement on Sept. 24:
Questions about safety and claims of personal preference are understandable. Given the outstanding efficacy and safety record of approved influenza vaccines, our overriding concern then, as health care workers, should be the interests of our patients, not our own sensibilities about mandates. On this, the facts are very clear: the welfare of patients is, without any doubt, best served by the very high rates of staff immunity that can only be achieved with mandatory influenza vaccination – not the 40-50 percent rates of staff immunization historically achieved with even the most vigorous of voluntary programs. Under voluntary standards, institutional outbreaks occur every flu season. Medical literature convincingly demonstrates that high levels of staff immunity confer protection on those patients who cannot be or have not been effectively vaccinated themselves, while also allowing the institution to remain more fully staffed.
Terence L. Kindlon, a lawyer for three nurses who sued the state, asserting that the order violated their civil rights, said the judge’s ruling was a victory. New York was the only state in the country to mandate vaccinations for health care workers, he said.
The nurses — Lorna Patterson, Kathryn Dupuis and Stephanie Goertz — work in the emergency room at Albany Medical Center, a regional trauma unit.