Childrens Hospital Workers Fired Over Flu Shot Refusal, Claim Religious Rights

Citing concerns for the their young patients’ safety, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia fired five employees for refusing the standard flu vaccine this year. The fired workers all claim their religions are at the root of their refusal to be vaccinated, and that they offered to wear flu masks.

The hospital said they asked employees who refused the shot to sign a waiver citing medical or religious reasons. A panel then looked at those claims, accepted some and rejected others based on past vaccination records;  however, according to one report,  this is the first year the hospital required that every employee get vaccinated. The fired employees said

they either don’t recall getting other shots or have chosen not to recently due to new religious beliefs.

I am hugely for religious freedom, and believe firmly that we have the right to control our bodies; that is actually what pro-choice  ultimately means–the right to control one’s body based on one’s spiritual and moral beliefs. I wonder how many of the fired employees would see that ppoint, that they’re actually standing up for abortion rights. And I wonder if the media which has been following this story would get that, and if conservatives who scream about government interference in our lives don’t see the cognitive dissonance. But expect this story to evolve some sort of analogy for religious persecution, socialist medicine, death panels and so forth. When really it’s about the right to control one’s body in all ways.

So about the fired employees: Terminated worker Rodney Bond said:

I am a herbalist. I have never had a flu shot. It goes against my belief system. That is a spiritual principle for me. How can my employer say it’s not. Who on that board is spiritual enough to make that decision?

Khadijah Muhammad who was also fired:

I’m just standing up for what I believe in and it’s hard, it really is.

Tyrika Cowlay explained:

I am a Christian, and my religion prohibits me from receiving vaccines.

Her husband Gary added:

We really have this strong belief. If it wasn’t that strong I would never jeopardize my job, knowing I have five kids, a wife, a mortgage. That’s how deeply we feel about this.

CHOP said it offered the employees opportunities to apply for medical and religious exemptions but not exemptions based on

personally held beliefs.

CHOP spokeswoman Peggy Flynn said:

Every request was given a careful evaluation. They had to show sincerely held religious beliefs.

Originally nine employees refused the standard flu vaccine. After the cases were reviewed, four were granted exemptions; the remaining five were not, and were given the opportunity to get the shots once their claims were rejected, or be fired. CHOP said in a statement:

Our seasonal flu vaccine policy is stronger than most hospitals in our region – and it should be, because we care for the sickest of sick children. Many of the children in our care have never had a chance to have a seasonal flu vaccine themselves so we have to do it for them. Many of our patients are either too young or their immune systems are too weak.

Gary McCormick and official from District 1199C of the Hospital and Health Care Employees Union countered:

We’re at a loss in terms of how does an institution make a determination of somebody’s spiritual and religious beliefs and say, ‘For you it’s OK, but for you it’s not OK.’

The union is taking this to arbitration and asking for reinstatement and back wages.

The majority of religions allow for vaccination; even Jehovah’s Witnesses permit individuals to make the decision for themselves. Obviously the CHOP review board took some employees’ religious stances seriously, since four out nine were exempted.  Wouldn’t a letter from one’s congregational leader stating that their particular sect finds vaccines spiritually wrong because of whatever, would have sufficed. In the case of Bond, who claimed in 30 years of employment at CHOP never to have been vaccinated would have been proof of his spiritual beliefs.

So what gives? And do self-held beliefs supersede the greater good? And is that the argument anti-choicers will be using regarding abortion–that the greater good good of America’s salvation and God’s blessings supersede each woman’s right to choose contraception in whatever form, be it abstinence, pregnancy prevention or abortion?

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