Nurse fired after refusing flu vaccine

CREATED Dec. 23, 2013

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A pregnant nurse in Pennsylvania has been fired after she refused a mandatory flu shot to protect her unborn baby.

Dreonna Breton, 29, learned she was pregnant with her second child in October, a month before all staff at her Lancaster employer, Horizon Healthcare Services, were required to have a compulsory flu shot.

But she became alarmed after the packaging for a number of major brands of the vaccine warned it 'should be given to a pregnant woman only if clearly needed,' and other notifications highlighted that it's unclear whether the shot can harm an unborn child.

She showed no symptoms of having the flu and having suffered two miscarriages since her son, Westen, was born 18 months ago, she didn't want to take the chance so rejected the vaccine. But she was subsequently told to leave. 

Breton was a home care infusion nurse who went to patients' residences providing services such as IV drips and tube feeds. 

Her employer was Lancaster General Hospital, who she had worked for since 2008. She had worked in a number of divisions but in April this year she started at Horizon, which the hospital part owns.

'I found out I was pregnant at the end of October and immediately went to my human relations person and told her the situation because I knew they had brought in mandatory flu vaccinations,' Breton told MailOnline. 

'I honestly didn't think it was going to be a problem but I was immediately met with the resistance that if I didn't take the vaccine by the November 15 deadline I would be terminated.'

Breton offered to wear a face mask to work, which is the alternative for someone who is exempt from the flu shot on religious grounds. But they told her they needed to see a note from her obstetrician.

'I found out I was pregnant at the end of October and immediately went to my human relations person and told her the situation because I knew they had brought in mandatory flu vaccinations,' Breton told MailOnline. 

'I honestly didn't think it was going to be a problem but I was immediately met with the resistance that if I didn't take the vaccine by the November 15 deadline I would be terminated.'

Breton offered to wear a face mask to work, which is the alternative for someone who is exempt from the flu shot on religious grounds. But they told her they needed to see a note from her obstetrician.

'This is important to me for the reasons it's important to me. I feel I have a legitimate concern. I asked several doctors what happens to the fetus, or do we even know what happens and they can't answer because the study hasn't been done,' she said.

'I have taken care of patients who have become paralyzed after having the shot and if that can happen to a full grown person who knows what can happen to a growing fetus.

'It is frustrating that someone can say "religiously I can't do this" but I can say I'm not comfortable about this for serious medical reasons and I lose my job.'

In a statement, Horizon's president, Carolyn Carlson, told Pennlive.com that a flu vaccination is a condition of employment because it 'protects our patients, employees, and community from getting this potentially serious infection.' Carlson said any exemptions were reviewed by a committee of doctors.

More and more hospitals and medical centers are enforcing mandatory flu shots to prevent staff spreading the bug to patients whose immune systems are weak.

Despite the warnings on the packaging, Lancaster General Health environmental and community medicine director Dr. Alan Peterson believes flu shots are highly beneficial to pregnant women. 

He told Pennlive.com, catching the flu is a far greater danger.

' I would say she has a million times greater chance of of having a problem if she gets the disease rather than the vaccine,' Petersen said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend flu shots for most pregnant women.

Breton said she isn't against the flu shot in general or other vaccines.

'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,' she said.

'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.'

A spokeswoman for Fluzone, a popular brand that warns pregnant women against taking the vaccine, said they couldn't say the vaccine was safe for pregnant woman because results of clinical studies involving expectant mothers hadn't been done.

Breton said her supervisor at Horizon did everything he could to keep her job but was ultimately overruled by his superiors at Lancaster General.

'I loved my job, I really felt I had found my niche and I enjoyed my patients so this wasn't a decision I made lightly,' Breton told MailOnline.

'We also depended on my income heavily and I am looking for new jobs but it is hard as a pregnant woman. Ultimately, I truly believe I did the right thing for me and my family and my husband and I were in 100 per cent agreement. We just need to have faith that things will work themselves out.'