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CBS News

Health Workers Protest Flu Vaccine Mandate


A vile of Panvax H1N1 Vaccine is displayed during the launch of the National pandemic (swine flu) influenza vaccination campaign by the Minister for Health and Ageing Nicola Roxon at Swan Park Leisure Centre on September 30, 2009 in Perth, Australia. Four. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)

NEW YORK - The first doses of the H1N1 vaccine are expected to be released this week. While that is bringing relief to some Americans, it's also helping to ignite a controversy for one group, as CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston reports.

Outside New York 's capitol building, health care workers - shouting "Give me liberty!" - vowed to fight an unprecedented order from state health officials: a requirement for every health care worker to get seasonal and H1N1 flu shots or face the possibility of being fired.

Physical therapist Carole Blueweiss is weighting that risk.

"I'm healthy and I have a strong immune system and I don't want to feel like someone is telling me what to put into my body to protect me," Blueweiss said.

But the state maintains the objective is to reduce the possibility of infecting patients.

"Every flu season, in New York for example, we have about 160 outbreaks of flu inside healthcare institutions," said New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Richard Daines.

In past years, when vaccination was voluntary, only 40 percent of the state's 925,000 health care workers get vaccinated.

"That's kind of intolerable that patients should come to a hospital and not know that the healthcare workers are vaccinated," Daines said.

But Carole Blueweiss - who plans to give her son the seasonal flu vaccine - doesn't trust the H1N1 vaccine for him or herself.

In her 15 years as a physical therapist at a large New York hospital, she says she's never gotten a flu shot and never had the flu.

"We are health care workers and we are not even given the credit or the respect to make the decision," Blueweiss said. "It's outrageous and it feels criminal and anti-American."

While New York has the only state-wide mandate, a number of private and public hospitals are also requiring employees to take flu shots, including: the 273 facilities of the Hospital Corporation of America; Emory hospital in Atlanta; the University of Pennsylvania hospital; the University of Maryland hospital; and the Loyola University health system in Chicago.

There is also a strong resistance from the general public. A new Harvard University poll shows only four in 10 adults intend to take the vaccine themselves. Only 6 in 10 plan to give it to their children.

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