Nurses Group Says Encourage, Don't Mandate H1N1 Flu Vaccination

As the national H1N1 pandemic arrives, with the vaccine following shortly, the nation's largest professional association and union of registered nurses has issued new nursing practice guidelines to structure its use. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) will present this policy as bargaining demands to hospital management, and as guidance to regulators and legislators.

Deborah Burger, RN, co-president of CNA/NNOC remarked, "The H1N1 virus presents a profound and unprecedented challenge to our nation's fraying healthcare system. The H1N1 flu vaccine should be offered as one part of a comprehensive program to deal with this pandemic. That care plan must also contain immediate improvements to hospital infection control procedures, including the guarantee of an adequate supply of the appropriate N95 respirator masks as well as thoughtful isolation procedures, in addition to an immediate improvement to the public health safety net patients rely upon, and a moratorium of closures of hospitals and emergency rooms."

Burger  continued, "At the heart of this policy is the belief that every RN should be vaccinated against the H1N1 influenza virus, but nurses should maintain their right to decline for personal reasons; in addition, every RN who contracts H1N1 must be cared for properly by her facility and local government, including with the guarantee of appropriate sick leave and presumptive eligibility for workers' compensation."

The policy reads:

• As frontline caregivers at the heart of the healthcare system, CNA/NNOC strongly recommends that all registered nurses (RNs) are vaccinated against the H1N1 influenza virus.

• Any vaccination program for RNs should include extensive education on the risks and benefits of vaccination, with an emphasis on patient protection and the need to be prepared for a serious pandemic outbreak.

• CNA/NNOC supports an RN's right to decline vaccination.

• RNs should be granted presumptive eligibility for workers' compensation benefits as a result of contracting the H1N1 influenza virus, and should not be subject to disciplinary action by an employer due to absenteeism or illness resulting from the vaccine.

CNA/NNOC represents 86,000 registered nurses in all 50 states, and is working toward unification with the Massachusetts Nurses Association and United American Nurses to build a new 150,000-member national nurses organization.