Dreonna Breton, a pregnant nurse in Pennsylvania, recently lost her job because she refused to get a flu shot. Breton, who is pregnant with her second child, did her research on the pros and cons of flu shots (including the one mandated by her employer, Fluzone) and ultimately decided against one. But her employer, Horizon Health Services, found her decision to be grounds for termination. Breton said:
“It would be a false statement to say the flu vaccine is known to be safe during pregnancy. I have lost my job, one that I love and am good at, because I chose to do what I believe is best for my baby.”
Breton says she asked for an exemption to the healthcare system’s mandatory flu shot policy, but was denied. She also says that she offered to wear a mask while at work, something some other health care organizations allow for employees who decline flu shots, but was also denied.
This is Breton’s fourth pregnancy; She’s had two miscarriages in the past and she says that risk of miscarriage contributed to her decision to forego the shot. She supplied a note to her employer explaining her history of miscarriage as a reason for why she wanted to decline the shot. Breton’s midwife wrote, ”In my view getting the flu shot would significantly and negatively impact her health because of the increased fear and anxiety it would create as well as the emotional impact it could cause if she does miscarry again.” But apparently the note was deemed inappropriate for grounds for exemption because it was from a midwife rather than a doctor. Local doctors in Breton’s area, including, apparently, the doctors who are responsible for making the decisions on who gets exemptions or not, say it’s much more dangerous for Breton and her baby to risk getting the flu while pregnant.
While the CDC recommends it for all pregnant people, concerns remain, mainly because pregnant women were not included in the original clinical studies involving flu vaccines. Even Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy has spoken out against the shot’s efficacy and popularity. The shot that Breton was required to receive, Fluzone, specifically states in its patient information that its “safety and effectiveness […] have not been established in pregnant women.”
I don’t know enough about pregnancy and flu shots to have a strong opinion one way or the other, but I must say I’m inclined to side with Breton on this one. It’s her body and her baby, after all. I understand why health care professionals are required to get flu shots, but why was the pregnant Breton denied an exemption in this case? After all, the warning about that particular flu shot and pregnant woman is right there in the literature provided by the manufacturer. Of course, that doesn’t mean a pregnant woman who does get a flu shot will suffer any adverse affects, but to me, Breton’s concerns sound reasonable enough for an exception to be made in her case.
Breton said she’s not against vaccines or even flu vaccines, but that she felt that her objections were enough to risk her job:
“I’m certainly not against it for everyone. The elderly and sick children, for people with weak immune systems, getting the flu can be a big deal. But for the healthy population, the flu is the flu and it’s been around a long time. If other pregnant women want to get it that is fine as well but I don’t want it for myself and I feel I have very valid questions. I would rather risk getting the flu than risk the unknowns of getting the flu vaccine.”
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