Hospital workers lose jobs over flu shot

PHILADELPHIA - December 4, 2009

"We're very concerned because this is our livelihood, this is our main source of income, my husband and I, we have a mortgage; we have 5 children," terminated employee Tyrika Cowlay said.

Tyrika and her husband are among nine CHOP employees who as of today lost their jobs due to refusing to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu.

They refused the vaccine based on religious beliefs. They are not the only ones.

"I'm just standing up for what I believe in and it's hard, it really is," terminated employee Khadijah Muhammad said.

Officials at CHOP say some religious exemption requests were accepted, others were not.

Rodney Bond, a CHOP employee of more than 30 years who is now terminated, says this is not fair.

"How do you pick and choose what religion is credible?" Bond said.

Dr. Susan Coffin, an infectious disease doctor at CHOP, says the decisions were made on a case-by-case basis and looked at whether employees have had other vaccinations in the past. The employees we spoke with say they either don't recall getting other shots or have chosen not to recently due to new religious beliefs.

The terminated workers offered to wear masks, but Dr. Coffin says masks aren't enough.

"We just can't rely on a somewhat flimsy mask to provide all the protection our patients need when we have another option," Dr. Coffin said.

She also says the decision to let workers go was not an easy, but again was done to protect patients.

"It's not right for our patients to come to our hospital, have us look them in the eye and say we are doing everything possible to keep you healthy and safe here knowing we have people who walk through the hallways when they are making a choice not to get vaccinated," Dr. Coffin said.

This shot in quesion was the seasonal flu vaccine, not the H1N1. The hospital did not make that vaccine mandatory due to the low supply of doses.

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