Editorial: Health providers should mandate employee vaccinations

Daily Editorial Board

Recently, a labor union in the Duluth area filed a complaint with a federal judge that, if allowed, would block Essentia Health from firing an employee that has refused to get a flu shot. The company had released a statement in early September that it would, with limited exceptions, require vaccinations for all employees, and employees that failed to do so would be fired from their respective job. Currently, flu vaccinations for employees of healthcare providers are required in 18 states — Minnesota does not have those policies. 

It’s appalling that vaccines for health providers are not mandatory. When patients enter a clinic or any other health provider facility, they ought to expect a safe environment without having to worry about getting illnesses from the staff that works there. When healthcare providers and their respective employees elect to work in the healthcare industry, they should submit to the reality that the priority will always be the safety of the patient and that any effort to compromise this will result in being fired. For this reason, we strongly urge Essentia Health to not give any reconciliation for employees that refuse vaccination without any legitimate, medically justified reason.  

Furthermore, we urge the federal judge asked to side with the union to reject their demands. United Steelworkers, the union filing the complaint, is arguing that Essentia Health is discriminating against and is publicly shaming people that are not getting the vaccine. First, it’s important to note that if an individual is not vaccinated at any healthcare facility, this should be public knowledge — failure to provide this information publicly is directly violating an individual’s right to controlling their bodily integrity. For example, an individual who is immuno-compromised has the right to know which of the individuals around them carries a virus or is not vaccinated for a disease that they may contract by contact with them. This should not be a matter for public debate — vaccines have directly saved millions of lives around the world and getting vaccinated should not only be a directive for public health, the requirements should be embedded into legal practice. 

Finally, we demand the state Legislature pass legislation that brings Minnesota up to par with many states around the country in requiring vaccines at healthcare facilities. There is absolutely no room for half-baked policies when it comes to vaccinations. According to the latest figures, 10 million individuals are immuno-compromised in the United States. Our current mandates have adjusted building codes and a variety of other rules to accommodate for individuals with all types of disabilities. In a healthcare facility, ensuring that an immuno-compromised individual does not contract the flu is at the lowest rung of the accessibility ladder. If people still choose to live in a prehistoric era, that is their prerogative. This doesn’t entitle them to decide the medical fate of millions of people, and we should treat this issue with the same partiality.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Essentia Health.