Health care and religion on collision course in flu shot mandate

A hospice volunteer in Itasca County doesn’t want a flu shot and she may lose her volunteer job if she doesn’t get one.

The Duluth News Tribune says the company wants workers claiming a religious exemption to provide examples of how they live by religious doctrine in other aspects of their life, too.

But Noreen Hautala, 58, isn’t claiming a religious reason for refusing the shot (although she had a pastor sign her request for an exemption); she says she had a terrible reaction to a flu shot once. She tells the Duluth News Tribune she’s troubled by the extent to which the company, which intends to fire everyone who doesn’t get a flu shot, is probing religious beliefs of those who are claiming a religious exemption.

A response that arrived on Oct. 20 said her exemption request was neither accepted nor denied, instead asking for additional information within five days. “Failure to provide additional information may result in a denial of your request,” stated the notice, which Hautala shared with the News Tribune.

The information that was sought included identifying the specific religious beliefs preventing her from being vaccinated, describing how those beliefs conflict with vaccination and specifying “other ways that you adhere to such religious belief(s) in your daily life.”

Hautala responded on the fifth day, but didn’t answer those questions. She said she wondered whether it was constitutional to ask such detailed questions about a person’s religious beliefs.

The daughter of a 91-year-old man, for whom Hautala cares, says she has no objection to Hautala not getting the shot.

Someone’s already dying,” Renee Nash tells the paper. “And hospice is just keeping them comfortable and pain-free. So what would it matter whether they had a flu shot or not?”

The health company says it’s been surprised by the objections to the policy.

“This is sort of like a cultural transformation for health care in Minnesota,” said Dr. Rajesh Prabhu, the health system’s patient quality and safety officer. “They’re looking for someone to lead.”

A union is suing Essentia over the edict.

  • This strikes me as similar to the fake service animal problem. Religion is not really clear-cut, and one can define it to justify anything. Still, this volunteer seems to be more concerned with having experienced a bad reaction to a previous vaccination. Dollars to donuts that isn’t documented with medical evidence.

    • I had both a flu shot and a pneumonia shot a few weeks ago and I had a really bad reaction for 24 hours — as the little thing they give you told me I might. I didn’t report it to a doctor, though.

      I’d still get the flu shot and pneumonia shot, but then again, I’m not a believer.

      • Jack

        I made the mistake of not getting one and then coming down with the flu. Asthmatic and flu do not play well.

  • jon

    I got one this year, in part because the company wellness program left me a choice between that and $200 a month extra for health insurance, and in part because we’ve never (to my knowledge) given the flu shot a fair shake… 80% inoculations is the range where you start to see larger patterns with vaccines, and we’ve barely made 60% in any geographic region in the US…

    Give the flu shot a chance…

    I have gotten the flu once since high school (twice since grade school) so I’m on exactly thrilled about getting stuck for something that is historically unlikely to impact me… but herd immunity and all that.

    • AL287

      Unfortunately, in today’s social media world, a patient will trust what’s on the Internet before they will trust their healthcare provider which only adds to the problem of adequate vaccination for influenza.

      I’ve had the flu, as in the real full blown influenza only twice in my life—once when I was pursuing pre-reqs for my nursing degree and once when I was a travel nurse during the H1N1 crisis back in 2009. In that case, I was given the shot as soon as I arrived onsite but the immune response didn’t kick in quickly enough and I caught it from one of the hundreds of patients that were coming through the urgent care clinic on a daily basis.

      For some years I did not have insurance and couldn’t afford the shot out of pocket but after the last experience in 2009 I have gotten a shot whether I could afford it or not.

      It would be interesting to know the average age of the employees refusing to get the shot at Essentia.

      The 1918 pandemic affected young and middle aged adults and young children. The elderly seemed to escape its wrath and researchers seem to think that the elderly who were unaffected might have been exposed at a younger age or the virus mutated unexpectedly.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    The problem with religious objections for anything is that they are applied inconsistently, and are “backed up” by contradictory, ancient writings by unknown authors. Having a history of bad reactions is a good excuse for not getting vaccinated, but superstition is no excuse for putting the general public at risk from measles, influenza, or some other preventable disease.

  • Wayne

    This is classic Essentia Health, they tell you they need a form filled out for something to happen then, when you do, they start to ask 20 questions which they could have stated in the first place! Instead of being up front, they run you around in circles. Essentia Health need to get their act together, they would not have this issue at all if they did.