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Mandated Flu Vaccine for Hospital Workers Ethically Questionable, Surgeon Writes

TUCSON, Ariz., June 18, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a letter to authorities at her hospital, orthopaedic surgeon Lee D. Hieb, M.D., of Lake View, Iowa, writes that a policy of forcing all hospital workers to receive annual influenza vaccine is neither scientifically justified nor ethically sound.

Her letter is the basis for an article in the summer issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

If official statistics are correct, and an average of 36,000 patients per year die in U.S. hospitals from complications of influenza, that would mean one death every 3 years in her hospital from this cause. And these figures are probably greatly overestimated.

Hieb notes the absence of good evidence for any patient benefit from the mandate, and the very limited evidence for vaccine safety. Studies on which approval was based looked only at a 21-day window after vaccination, although serious sequelae such as paralysis from Guillain-Barre syndrome can have a delayed onset.

"The government does not require vaccine manufacturers to submit to independent safety studies, but allows them do their own," she notes. And a lot of money is at stake.

The effects of adjuvants such as aluminum, which are added to boost immune response, are poorly understood. Additionally, current vaccines are grown in media that contain viral DNA, in order to speed production, and then the DNA is removed. Removal cannot be 100% complete. "What is an acceptable level for an oncogene [cancer-causing gene]?" she asks.

"There is a grave ethical issue at stake here. Does any government or public agency have the right to force a medical treatment with its attendant risks on an individual or group of individuals?" Hieb asks. "A private business can require that certain physical standards be met, even vaccination, but to do so it must bear the moral burden of potentially harming people."

"It is important to note that doctors—those theoretically with the most knowledge of such things—never mandate treatment," she writes. Instead, they advise patients about benefits and risks, making sure that patients understand that risks are never completely known.

Hieb urges her hospital to "choose a principled stance, acting as a leader in this issue, not as a collaborator in an ill-conceived, scientifically unsound, and potentially harmful program."

The Journal is an official publication of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, which was founded in 1943.

SOURCE Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)
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