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The miasma of mistrust and paranoia around Covid vaccinations and other vaccines is profoundly ironic in a nation that places more trust in nurses and doctors than just about any other profession.
For weary nurses and other health workers caring for victims of the latest surges, this year’s unnecessary loss of life is heartbreaking. And the latest death tolls can in large part be charged to the accounts of unprincipled politicians, who—instead of using their influence to guide the public responsibly—have severed all contact with reality. Tennessee even fired their top vaccine official (a highly respected pediatrician) for sharing 100% accurate, legal information regarding parental permission laws.
Some of the mistrust is understandable, given Americans’ suspicion of authorities and resentful sense that the people In Charge are trying to modify our behaviors through public health laws, rules, and mutable “guidelines.” No matter that rules and guidelines help humans to survive together and perhaps even flourish, or that communities and polities have depended on public health measures for millennia to protect populations from disease and death.
Nurses and other HCWs know better (or should know better)
However, we expect health care workers to be more mindful than the general public. APRNs, RNs, CNAs, and orderlies know all too well how high the stakes are, and during every shift, they see the consequences of ignoring basic health guidelines.
HCWs did not need a pandemic to remind them that people die all the time because they refuse to follow simple, obvious medical advice based on empirical evidence. Cigarette smokers persistently ignore the facts and die slowly from cancer or suddenly from heart attacks. Motorcyclists die young when they leave their helmets behind to cultivate a Wild One rebel-biker mode.
Seniors succumb to annual flu viruses because the vaccine once made them ill for a day. Or, more recently, 30-something men and women never make it to 40 because surgical masks are uncomfortable and alienating . . . Or because a photogenic politician told them that Covid vaccinations are really a ploy to implant nanochips that will give shadowy Elites control over every man, woman, and child in the country.
Naturally, in a nation that celebrates maverick behavior and hates to be bossed around, we can expect to find plenty of contrarians even among our 22 million health care workers (enough people to populate Sweden twice over). But it is deeply distressing that 100 nurses tried to sue Houston Methodist Hospital for firing them over noncompliance with its mandatory Covid vaccination policy. A story in Becker’s even referred to the case as “the nurses’ lawsuit.”
Why even an “anti-vax” nurse has an obligation to get vaccinated
Now, like every American, nurses have the right to believe whatever they like. However, as a vital part of the healthcare system, you have a professional obligation to take all necessary precautions to protect the health of your patients. If you have cavils with medical science, you are probably in the wrong profession (Christian Science nursing might be a better fit).
What about nurses and other HCWs who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons? Hospitals with mandatory vaccination policies for other highly contagious diseases such as flu or Hepatitis B have been able to accommodate such nurses in the past by requiring them to wear masks; some even offered a choice: get your shots or you can wear a mask.
Over the past year, scientists all over the globe have been intently studying the prophylactic benefits of surgical masks as well as the well-beloved N95, but we have long known that wearing masks significantly reduces the risk of infecting others. So, hopefully, hospitals will allow masking as an alternative when they deploy vaccination mandates. Seeing immunocompromised nurses wearing surgical masks could also help patients and their families to understand that masks are not part of an insidious plot, but in fact really do protect them from infection.
Again: you have the right to believe anything about mRNA vaccines, childhood shots and autism, abortion, evolution—anything—and should not be ridiculed or castigated for sincerely held beliefs. However, as a nurse, when you put on your scrubs it is your professional duty to doff any personal, non-evidence-based beliefs that contradict your scientific training. If you are in a caring profession, respect your training enough to roll up that sleeve or mask up!
Thanks to 21st-century science—and to the nurses who worked overtime to administer Covid vaccines—an additional 279,000 people in the US would be filling morgue trucks around the US. You cannot destroy ignorance entirely, but by taking a stand against it, you can save lives.