Moral dilemma

Every year, as fall transitions into winter, flu season arrives. All healthcare staff, physicians and volunteers are encouraged to get immunized against influenza.   

Janae Orr, Registered Nurse, works on a busy surgical unit with patients constantly being admitted to and discharged from hospital.

However, not all health workers will choose to get their flu shot.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, immunization attitudes fall on a continuum. At one end, there are people who are completely in favour of vaccines, and at the other end are people who oppose vaccines. In between, there is a broad and complex spectrum of people who are vaccine-hesitant or vaccine-uncertain.

Janae Orr, Registered Nurse at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, has reservations about immunization. “I think that every body is different. As such, I do not think every body will react the same to vaccines.” 

She was born preterm and was admitted to hospital after experiencing a severe reaction to her first round of infant vaccinations.

“My mother trusted healthcare professionals, and the science behind immunizations made sense, but whenever she called to make the second appointment, she would feel absolutely sick inside and was never able to set the date,” says Janae.

“She’s just so sweet,” smiles Roberta Davis, patient, as Janae Orr, RN, checks her vitals.

Janae's mother followed her intuition and decided against immunizing her children. Growing up, Janae never got the flu shot.

Although her non-vaccination beliefs remain the same, Janae’s behaviour changed when she was accepted into nursing school. She decided to get immunized as part of the enrolment process.

Through pondering and prayer, Janae determined that patient safety is her first priority. She puts her personal beliefs aside and makes the choice to get the flu shot annually as a way to protect her fragile and weak patients.

“While I may not believe in immunizations for me, I am not willing to perhaps endanger patients who are already vulnerable,” says Janae.

Janae does everything in her power to ensure her patients are getting healthy and strong.

“Given the power differential between a vulnerable patient and a professional healthcare worker, the patient is at a disadvantage,” explains Gordon Self, Vice-President of Mission, Ethics and Spirituality at Covenant Health. “There’s a greater moral obligation for the healthcare worker to do everything in their power to prevent harm.”

Other employees who share Janae’s vaccination concerns get their flu shot to avoid employment disruptions. In the event of an influenza outbreak at a particular site or on a vulnerable unit, staff members who have not been immunized may not be permitted to work during that time.

“We know that influenza takes lives and that annual immunization is our best defence against the flu,” says Gordon. “The more we contribute to a global immunity, there’s less chance of it spreading.”

In 2015, 61 per cent of health workers in Alberta got immunized, but Alberta Health has set an immunization target of 80 per cent.

Gordon says we need to show compassion to people who are hesitant about getting the flu shot. “It’s important to address any fear they may have and provide them with encouragement and factual information. Occupational Health and Safety will lay out all the risks and benefits of influenza immunization to make sure people can make an informed decision. They’re committed to staff’s well-being, and your concerns are important to them. We want you to be healthy and safe, and contribute to good patient care.”

Roberta Davis, patient, is happy that Janae is part of her care team and helping her during recovery.

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