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Hospital workers fired for refusing vaccinations

by Phil Plait, Dec 10 2009

NBC is reporting that several workers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were fired for refusing to get vaccinated. CHP cares for very sick children, many of whom have compromised immune systems or are too young to get vaccinated.

The twist? Some of the employees refused vaccinations for religious reasons:

"I am a Christian, and my religion prohibits me from receiving vaccines," said Tyrika Cowlay, who was a lab technician.

First and foremost, this isn’t a religious issue. It’s a safety issue. I mean, c’mon. We know vaccinations prevent the spread of diseases, especially among children, and even more so among those who are too young to be vaccinated themselves — herd immunity is all those infants have.

Second, I’m thinking that if your religion forbids you from vaccinations (and to my knowledge, mainstream Christianity does not preclude them), then maybe a children’s hospital isn’t the best line of work for you (any more than an orthdox Jew should work at a pork rendering factory). That may seem harsh, but let’s replace a few words in the linked article and see how you feel:

Several Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia employees were fired for refusing to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

The people who were let go said this year is the first that the hospital has mandated hand washing.

“I never thought that not washing my hands after I used the toilet would result in the loss of my job,” said [one of the workers who was let go].

Imagine someone at a hospital claiming their religion says they can’t wash their hands! If I saw a hospital employee leave the bathroom without washing, I’d file a complaint instantly. I have no qualms with the hospital making vaccinations a mandatory requirement.

However, one issue raised in the article is that some employees were granted exemption from the vaccinations and some weren’t. If that’s true, it’s unfair. No one should be exempted due to their beliefs.

There. Problem solved.

So while I’m sorry these people had to be let go, I will always choose children’s safety over someone’s religious or personal beliefs. Always.

Tip o’ the syringe to Matt Andrews. Originally posted on the Bad Astronomy Blog.

23 Responses to “Hospital workers fired for refusing vaccinations”

  1. Seth says:

    The last paragraph weirds me out even more. Five kids and a mortgaged house, and he’s perfectly willing to risk his job over a non-issue.

    Yeah, whoever’s running that hospital needs to figure out that metaphysics doesn’t stop the spread of disease.

  2. Carl says:

    What sect of Christianity forbids vaccinations anyway? Is there a secret Gospel where Jesus says “Thou shalt not partake of molecules which are parts of the protein coats of certain viruses”? Unless this couple are Christian Scientists, but then why are they working in a hospital?

  3. Cthandhs says:

    It continues to amaze me how lax we are with requirements for our medical workers. I would wish that vaccinations were manditory for all medical staff. In some casinos, wait staff are hired as “models” so that they can be fired if they gain weight. Right or wrong, no one gets to say that their religious beliefs let them keep the job. I don’t see why medical facilities shouldn’t have the leeway, where it actually matters. Get vaccinated or get out.

  4. decius says:

    “Imagine someone at a hospital claiming their religion says they can’t wash their hands!”

    Dear Phil, reality surpasses your imagination. Never underestimate the power of religious unreason.–religion.html

  5. steelsheen11b says:

    I’m still puzzled over where in the instruction manual it says you can’t receive vaccinations? Granted it’s been a while since I looked at the bible but I don’t remember anything about vaccines in it since vaccines hadn’t been invented at the time of writing.

    Could some of these folks be 7th Day Adventists?

  6. Peter says:

    Good riddance. I’d expect people in any other field to be fired if they refuse to use safety equipment and endanger others. Religious delusion should never be a free pass when it comes to matters of public safety.

  7. Kitapsiz says:

    I’m not an expert on the Bible but that doesn’t seem to be one of the Ten Commandments or the seven deadly sins …

    Under what auspices of inglorious stupidity would the hospital exempt certain people from vaccination?

    Children’s hospital; maximum germ transmission prevention policies … and then you exempt “some” people.

    I think the hospital adminstration needs to be “let go”. Execution is preferable though; stops them from procreating.

  8. Kitapsiz says:

    The news article isn’t saying it, but I wonder what exactly was the determination for whose beliefs allowed them to be exempted.

    What a shoddy bit of “news”, that should have been an obvious question. Makes me wonder if the exemption was for only “certain” religions …

  9. Ranson says:

    Some sects are against vaccination because of the old “aborted fetuses in the vaccine” crap. Lots of individuals cop out of it that way, too.

  10. LKL says:

    For the honor of lab techs everywhere:
    I’m a proudly vaccinated lab worker. I got both seasonal and H1N1 jabs as soon as I could.

  11. gwen says:

    Not only do I have to get the seasonal flu vaccine, I was required to get the H1N1 vaccine. I am also required to have my titers checked every few years, and get booster shots for diseases such as Pertussis. It is a part of my job requirement, I am a NICU nurse, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We can sign declination forms for the vaccines, but we had 100% compliance in my unit, without complaint. Especially after the unit was practically shut down when the H1N1 hit us in the summer and gave two nurses pneumonia!

  12. steelsheen11b says:

    Hey nutter butter is back! Welcome back you full of “god” nonsense fool. How does it feel to be afraid all the time? I’ve always wondered about that since I live my life free from mystical, fictional beings.

  13. LKL says:

    This is Mr. Goats-on-Fire? No wonder PZ couldn’t be bothered to read the whole thing.

  14. The Blind Watchmaker says:

    Playing the religion card gets an unquestioned pass to easily in this country. People don’t often refuse vaccines due to religious reasons, but may state this as an excuse. Fear from the anti-vax lobby and just simply being a baby about shots are the real culprits.

    • Soul says:

      Ok…Let’s clear up a couple of things. The hospital for the first time told it’s employees that the flu shot would be mandatory. They also said if you work in a non-patient building, you do not have to get the shot. Although Tyrika Cowlay requested religious exemption,she should have been exempted based on the fact that she worked in another building. However the hospital still tried to force her to get the shot. There is no playing the religion card! Allowing employees to be exempt for medical and religious reasons was the hospital’s criteria. The problem came about when the hospital picked and chose who’s religion, or religious and personal reasons was good enough. Opening it self up to be liable for religious discrimination.Please go to the EEOC website and read the guidelines. Also for reasonable accomodations. Even if the panel was religious they don’t have the authority to make that judgement. However, this panel were all medical staff. Go figure! The employees fired were not the only victims. Employees who took the shot under duress because their exemption request was denied are victims as well. And they may total over a thousand.

      • Max says:

        I don’t see the relevance of the flu shot being mandatory for the first time.

        If Tyrika worked in another building, why did her religion come up at all? I suspect you left something out.

        An accommodation isn’t reasonable if it puts patients or coworkers at risk. If Tyrika worked far far away from patients, and if other religious groups were exempted, and this is just wrangling over the semantics of religion versus personal belief, then she might have a case.

  15. soul says:

    Regardless of what we choose to believe. Or what make sense to us, the law has it’s specific criteria. Based on the EEOC guidelines, Reasonable Accomodations have to be extended to those to honor their religious beliefs. Only if the accommodations isn’t proven to be too costly to the employer. Also, you do not have to belong to a organized or traditional religion to be recognized under these guidelines. Your personal beliefs, including your ethics and morality are included as well under these guide lines. For example, suppose you believed in God and have high moral standards,but like a lot a people don’t belong to a particular religion. Furthermore, what if you were not religious at all? If you could not be exempt for medical reasons, you are stuck. Where would you get an exemption letter? If you are an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer,you are suppose to be fair to everyone….even Athias!

    • Max says:

      “Only if the accommodations isn’t proven to be too costly to the employer.”

      Placing patients at risk can be very costly to the employer if any of them die.
      The employee must still perform her essential job functions, so completely changing her duties would not be a reasonable accommodation.

  16. soul says:

    You will only believe patients were at risk, if you believed the hype the hospital was SELLING you. That if you are not vaccinated, you are walking around sickly. And that you are hazardous. Now if you or anybody believes that, I am going to try to sell you the brooklyn bridge. I will make out like a bandit! Also, again…Mrs.Cowlay was not located in a inpatient building! So her duties did not have to be changed to accommodate her.

  17. frustrated says:

    Other than those that voluntarily identified themselves as healthcare workers, I wonder how many of you actually work in the healthcare setting or have been forced to do anything against your beliefs in order to keep or to get a job? This country was founded on religious freedoms and freedom from persecution for religion. If we start giving up those freedoms when they involve seemingly minor issues, sooner or later those freedoms will be taken away for larger, more important things. Cudos to those who stood up for what they believe. The rest of us are just sheep.
    I’d like to see the study that identified an actual influenza virus on a healthcare worker and tracked it as it jumped to patient and infected them. The flu vaccine is 15-75% effective (depending on whose statistics one reads). Regardless of religion, should someone be forced to take something that has unvalidated effectiveness with the delusion that it will help “protect” their patients? Hand-washing and masks protect patients, period. Influenza vaccine does not always protect the person receiving it, period. People with minor cases of the flu (often those vaccinated) don’t realize they have it and come to work. Those who aren’t vaccinated and get the flu generally have worse symptoms and stay home. I’ll take the unvaccinated group, thank you.

  18. stephanie says:

    While vaccinations do prevent the spread of disease, they are also loaded with harmful chemicals. I know that I won’t have my children vaccinated when I am able to have them. No one brings up this side of the story. So you would rather say that everyone should be vaccinated. & then it just so happens that a percentage that is just as large as the amount of people who would have died from a disease, die from the fact that there are cancer causing agents IN VACCINATIONS.

    don’t be stupid. It’s a touchy subject and neither you nor I have the answer.