For more than 10 years, Vicki has declined the free influenza vaccine offered to her by her employer, the Franciscan Alliance, for personal reasons.
This year she won't have that choice.
Vicki, whose name has been changed to protect her job, was notified by a letter in August the health system was instituting a new requirement for all employees to get a flu shot this year.
"Franciscan Alliance senior executives and the Board of Trustees have reviewed this issue carefully and concluded it is the only appropriate ethical stance we can take," Gene Diamond, CEO for the Franciscan Alliance Northern Indiana Region, said in a statement that cites virus statistics. For example, more than 36,000 people die across the country from the flu, and about 114,000 nationwide are hospitalized from the illness.
The new policy includes all 14 Franciscan Alliance hospitals in Indiana and Illinois, and provides exceptions for documented medical and religious reasons. Those who are exempt from the vaccine must wear a face mask while caring for patients or in patient-contact areas during the flu season, from October to March.
The August letter said in prior years, vaccination was voluntary, but on average, less than half the employees and staff chose to receive the vaccination.
While Vicki plans to submit a waiver to be exempt, she expects to be denied. According to the corporate policy, if she doesn't get a vaccine by Dec. 15, the result will be "disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment for continued noncompliance."
"I don't want it in my body," she said. "I don't think people should have to put something in their body they don't want."
The Franciscan Alliance isn't alone in its mandate. At Indiana University Northwest, all students in the College of Health and Human Services and all students in the medical school must be vaccinated, said Dr. Linda Delunas, the associate dean of the college. She believes mandatory vaccinations are part of the future.
"I think it's probably what's coming," said Delunas, who sent an email to students notifying them of the mandate. "If there's a backlash (from students) I haven't heard about it."
Patrick Bankston, dean of the college and assistant dean and director of the medical school, said the policy for students came after Franciscan Alliance made its decision to mandate the vaccine.
"Our students are in all of their hospitals," Bankston said. "Our perspective is it's important to prevent as many cases of the flu as possible to decrease the risk of giving it to patients."
Stephen Early, supervisor of employee health services at Methodist Hospitals, said the hospital's 2,100 employees aren't required to have a vaccine. However, everyone either must receive the vaccine or sign a declination saying they don't want the vaccine and why. The same is true for employees at Indiana University Health LaPorte Hospital, said Ann Mejer, director of employee health. She said employees must receive a vaccination or turn in a declination form by the end of the year.