Donna Breton, 29, describes herself as a healthy person who takes care of her body. She’s also a nurse who just happens to be pregnant during this year’s flu season. Her pregnancy plus her career as a healthcare worker puts her at added risk of contracting the flu but she’s refused to get a flu vaccine. And she’s lost her job because of that decision.
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, nurse tells CNN that her employer - Horizons Healthcare Services - requires all its employees to get a flu shot every year. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise the same thing. Breton understands the reasons behind the Horizons directive and the CDC recommendation but she also understands there are pregnancy-related risks associated with the flu shot and she is willing to forfeit her job for the health of the child she carries.
Breton has one child but she’s miscarried three times. Those multiple miscarriages put her at added risk for miscarrying again. Breton feels that the combined risks - history of miscarriage and the flu vaccine - puts her pregnancy in jeopardy. “I’m not gonna be the one percent of people that has a problem (with the flu vaccine),” she says.
Breton’s family backs her decision to forego a flu vaccine this year but her employer wasn’t so understanding. She volunteered to wear a face mask on the job as do healthcare personnel who, for religious reasons, are exempted from the annual flu shot requirement.
Horizons Healthcare Services wouldn’t allow the face mask exemption in Breton’s case. She was given until December 17 to get vaccinated or lose her job. According to Alan Peterson, a spokesperson for the healthcare provider, it would be unconscionable for Breton to continue working without the vaccination, especially because she is pregnant. Women are more likely to get the flu during pregnancy.
The CDC claims a flu shot is the best protection a pregnant woman can get; it protects the mother and the developing fetus. Breton’s concern stems, however, from the very limited number of studies involving the safety of the flu vaccine for pregnant women. Knowing what she knows about the flu vaccine, the CDC recommendation, her employer’s policy, her work responsibilities, her state of health, and her pregnancy history, Breton stood by her decision to forego vaccination at this time.
Breton was not allowed to continue her job.
Even so, Breton would like her job back. She expresses no interest in legal action at this time but hopes her case will prompt Horizons Healthcare to review its current policy on vaccine requirements for pregnant personnel.
- Malloy, Allie. “Pregnant nurse: I was fired for refusing flu vaccine.” CNN Health. Cable News Network / Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. Dec 29, 2013. Web. Jan 6, 2014.
- “Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.” CDC / Seasonal Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nov 7, 2013. Web. Jan 6, 2014.