Mandatory Vaccinations for Nurses and other health care workers

This coming year may well see an end to my long period of employment as a nurse. In 2009, the Victorian Department of Health Services will release their mandatory vaccination program for all health care workers. The compulsory program includes vaccines for diptheria, tetanus and pertussis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, chicken pox, hepatitis A & B, influenza and Tuberculosis. Failure to comply will mean an end to one’s employment as nurse, doctor or allied health worker. This draconian policy, has supposedly been developed, due to an unsubstantiated fear, that nurses will transmit these infectious diseases to their patients, inspite of the fact, that there have been no recorded incidents of unvaccinated nurses, passing on diseases in this way. There is currently a severe shortage of nurses and doctors, and such a policy might just make matters worse, with those not complying, no longer able to work in the health system.

Upon the implementation of this policy, individual freedom to accept, or refuse a medical treatment is seriously at risk, as are the rights of workers who refuse vaccination to retain employment. It remains to be seen how many doctors, nurses and allied health workers will comply with this policy, which is already in use in NSW and Queensland. One NSW nurse who has refused vaccination is challenging the policy and her case is due to be heard in the courts within weeks.

The issue of compulsory vaccination has been discussed within the medical profession and by David Isaacs who writing in the British Medical Journal, discusses whether it is ethical and good practice, to make immunisation mandatory.

The state sometimes exerts benign paternalism to coerce personal choice. Examples are the mandatory use of seat belts or of motorcycle helmets, where the infringement of autonomy is justified by the effect on public health, and where the intervention poses little or no harm to the individual and has been proved to save lives. But it is not clear that this applies to immunisation of healthcare workers. For mandatory immunisation to be acceptable it would have to be effective, not harmful, feasible, and have no alternative.

Professor of paediatric infectious diseases, David Isaacs, from the Children’s Hospital, Westmead, NSW, concludes that mandatory immunisation of all healthcare workers, is an excessive infringement on autonomy, relative to its potential benefits. Isaacs states that for compulsory vaccination policy to be acceptable it has to be effective and cause no harm and must be indispensable.

In order to discuss whether vaccinations are effective, indispensable, and of no harm, we need to understand just what a vaccine is, and how it is supposed to work. Firstly, let’s look at what happens when we come in contact with a virus or bacteria. When we suffer a disease naturally, the virus or bacteria travels through the nose or mouth into the lungs, and into the circulatory and lymphatic systems, providing antibody protection. However when we vaccinate by injecting concentrated pathogenic microorganisms directly into the body, the natural defense system is bypassed and the immunity is very short lived.

Vaccines can contain live viruses, and in fact, five out of these ten compulsory vaccines do contain live virus material. Live virus vaccines can sometimes infect the recipient, and even infect those in close contact such as immuno-compromised patients. For example, the MMR, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine contains live viruses. There have been reports of children presenting with fevers, a few days after vaccination with a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Measles virus was isolated in throat swabs taken 4 days after fever onset. This virus was then further genetically characterised as a vaccine-type virus. In the same way, the hospital patient could be at risk from a recently vaccinated staff member.

Regarding the safety of these mandated vaccines there are grave doubts. In fact, these vaccines have not been the subject of established medical scientific testing. The gold standard of science, which is the double blind trial, where one group of people is given the drug or vaccine, and the other a placebo, has not been performed for vaccinations. Vaccines contain various toxic ingredients such as mercury, aluminium and formaldehyde. The fact that vaccines can cause harmful side effects has been acknowledged recently by the United States Federal Government, which conceded in 2000, that a 19 month old child became autistic after being given his childhood vaccines.

The DHS policy lists the Hepatitis B vaccine consisting of three doses, as part of the compulsory vaccination program. There are thousands of reports to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) of adverse events that followed hepatitis B vaccination. Included among these are numerous cases of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Guillain Barre Syndrome, and autoimmune arthritis. Surely in light of such facts, universal precautions such as the wearing of protective gloves and goggles, would suffice, in the efforts to protect staff and patients. Why would we risk the health of workers with vaccines that have serious side effects, when there are other infection control measures that can be utilised?

The DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus) vaccine is perhaps the most controversial, and is also among the list of mandated vaccinations. It is not uncommon to see whooping cough (pertussis) in children who have been fully vaccinated with this injection. We need to be mindful of the numbers of ill patients who are at risk of easily catching whooping cough from recently vaccinated health care workers. Well documented side effects from the DPT shot range from high fever, continuous high-pitched screaming, severe rashes, diarrhea, choking, apnea, seizures, mental and physical retardation, and in many cases, death.

Are vaccines effective? Whilst we have all been taught that vaccination ended the many dangerous disease outbreaks, publications and statistics from the past two hundred years, reveal that infectious diseases declined 90 percent before mass vaccination was ever introduced. The U.S. Centre for Disease Control reported in 1999, that infectious diseases declined in the past century due to improvements in sanitation, water and hygiene. Vaccination against whooping cough, diphtheria, measles and polio commenced only at the end of the life cycle of each epidemic, leading to the myth, that it was vaccination that ended epidemics.

Vaccines cause auto immune diseases. This is because even though a vaccine suppresses the outward signs and symptoms of an infectious disease such as chicken pox, there is possible damage to the immune system itself. We may have prevented the outward symptoms of a disease, but the disease itself remains unresolved, resulting in the amazingly high incidence of chronic autoimmune disease in the world today; diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are among the many auto immune diseases that affect us.

Vaccines are massive wealth creations for pharmaceutical companies. A recent investor report estimates that the world-wide market will quadruple from about $4.3 billion in 2006 to more than $16 billion in 2016, with the biggest boost coming from the vaccination of children. Since 1998 doctors have been paid a bonus, based on how many children they fully vaccinate.

I have recently heard that medical students are being told they must also be vaccinated with Gardasil, the cervical cancer vaccine. Following the mass roll out of Gardasil in 2007, there has been no shortage of media reports on its side effects. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is investigating whether there is a link between Gardasil, the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the development of pancreatitis in three young women. There have also been many serious reports of seizures and other debilitating reactions to the vaccine. Extremely worrying are the neurological conditions such as Guillain Barré Syndrome and Acute Demyelinating Encephalomyelitis that are being attributed to Gardasil. Alarmingly there have also been 17-20 deaths from the vaccine in the U.S.

Just what are we willing to do to save our jobs? With such a dubious report card how can vaccines be considered safe! How many health care workers will become ill from mandated vaccines? How many of their already immuno-compromised patients will become sicker when exposed to health workers recently vaccinated with live virus vaccines?

I wrote a short letter to The Age newspaper about this policy and was rung by a very excited health reporter who wanted to know all about the compulsory vaccination policy. She promised to ring me the next day when she had checked my resources, such as the DHS, and the nursing agency who had alerted me to the immediacy of the policy’s implementation. I have not heard from her since. There has been no story in the media on this very important change to the working conditions of healthcare workers. Vaccination is a no-go area for the mainstream media. There are huge vested interests to protect. Readers might be interested to learn that back in 1999, Victorian maternity hospitals began vaccinating babies against hepatitis B on their second day of life. This policy was a condition of the hospital funding from the Victorian state government.

How do we condone such an unethical practice that delivers suspect untested vaccines to innocent members of our community?

My interest in this is both personal and political. I have been practising as a nurse for forty years and I have not seen or heard of patients catching infectious diseases from nurses and doctors. On the other hand, I have nursed patients with all manner of diseases and conditions and I have remained reasonably healthy. I may even have strengthened my own immune system in the process. I still need to work and wish do so for at least five more years, but am very anxious that this will not be possible, because I will not submit to mandatory vaccinations.