Skepchick Quickies 1.7

On January 7th, 1610, Galileo observed four of Jupiter’s moons (named the Galilean moons): Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and Europa.



Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. Mary

    If I was Jyoti Singh Pandey father, I’d definitely want justice for my daughter. Why exactly is there such a horrible rape epidemic in India? Is there just a lot of misogyny in that part of the world?

    1. 1: It’s not just India; it’s across much of the world.

      2: The symptoms that lead to it are present even in the U.S. Read the Steubenville story–the comments of some of the people involved could just as easily be coming from some of the idiots talking about the India bus rape.

      3: There is an India-specific aspect–namely, that India is undergoing a fairly radical transformation in terms of women’s rights. Women are working more, marrying later, and otherwise beginning to seize control of their lives. As happens routinely in societies throughout history, when a privileged group begins to lose their privilege, some of them lash back, violently and in as ugly a manner as possible. So women who insist on working (or must work, due to life circumstance) are targeted for abuse and street harassment, and yes, rape.

  2. It looks like bad information about the victim’s father wanting her named:
    Also on Sunday, the victim’s father denied a British newspaper report that he wanted his daughter named.

    The Sunday People said the father had given permission to name him and his daughter, despite an Indian law that protects sex crime victims by prohibiting their identification.

    He apparently gave permission for his daughter’s name to be used by officials drafting new laws, not the media.

  3. I’m sickened by the firing of these nurses. Something similar happened in Massachusetts, nurses were forced to wear masks. Which sounds reasonable however there was a culture of shaming that went with the concept.

    If nurses did not want the vaccine, the hospital could have required them to only work with patients who were vaccinated with flu (which they should recommend to all patients who are hospitalized anyway).

    This sets a very ugly precedent. Shouldn’t it be law then that every teacher, every elderly care worker, anyone who works with the public at all be forced into a vaccine?

    If you don’t want the flu, get vaccinated. The vaccine does not prevent every strain, nor is it right for everyone. I got my shot but technically I should have not since I’m allergic to therimisol and they did not have the kind I’m not allergic to.

    1. I couldn’t disagree with you more. The only way for a health professional to get out of getting vacinated is for medical reasons. Just beause their immune systems are strong enoigh to fight off an illness before they get sick does not give them the right to go through a hospital or doctor’s office spreading disease to sensitive patients.

      1. I think this just proves my point. You’re characterizing these nurses as disease-ridden just because they are not vaccinated.

        Whereas I have never heard of a nurse being fired because they did not wash their hands, which has been proven time and time again to be a huge risk to patients.

        Patients can be vaccinated for the flu. If you think it should be required of nurses to be vaccinated, are you also advocating that nursery school teachers, day care workers and everyone who walks into a nursing home be required to get the shot?

        Would you make it the law?

        1. First off there is a difference between being “disease-ridden” and being constantly exposed to the flu every day at work.

          Second not all patients can be vacinated, and they are the ones that are most likely to be in the hospital/clinic. Children who are to young to be vacinated, people who have immune system complications, they are there a lot more than your typcal adult.

          1. So are the patients entering the hospital. Vaccinating nurses will not end the exposure.

            And this smacks of sexism, by the way. Why no mention of doctors? Are you seriously telling me only the nurses had to get the vaccine?

            (Yes, I know there are male nurses, but from what I’ve seen it’s relatively rare).

          2. Who said anything about ending the exposure? It’s more about LESSENING the exposure.

        2. “…are you also advocating that nursery school teachers, day care workers and everyone who walks into a nursing home be required to get the shot?”

          Yes, at least if you work there.

          1. Okay, so this could potentially trickle down to many professions. Would you then make it the law for these workers? Why or why not?

          2. I think this hospital’s policy is fine, actually — no law needed, in this case! They are doing the righ thing without it being a law.

            So maybe there doesn’t necessarily need to be a law.

        3. About nurses not being fired for washing their hands – I know most hospitals have policies in place that require staff to regularly wash their hands. I would think if someone refused to do that they would be fired.

          1. I don’t know about hospitals, but I used to work in food production and workers there can lose their jobs if they don’t regularly wash their hands. I have a hard time believing that health care workers who are routinely caught not washing their hands when required won’t lose their jobs.

    2. I’m quite pleased these nurses were fired. Why should a hospital or medical agency waste money accommodating absurd notions and place vulnerable patients at risk of serious consequences or even death because of an unvaccinated nurse. Also one can be infected and easily spread the flu virus before there are any symptoms so firing these nurses was absolutely the correct thing to do. And Luna, you should read these SBM posts.

  4. I so agree about the obesity campaigns. Bad enough that they’re painting everyone with the same brush, but now we know it’s not even sound science that big = unhealthy.

  5. And what about heard immunity, Luna? Perhaps you should do some research on vaccinations and heard immunity before forming an opinion, as it is clear you’re not fully informed.

    Health care workers have an extra responsibility to vaccinate. If you are unwilling to vaccinate, then you need to find a different career path.

    Health care workers are around people with compromised immune systems who may or may not be able to be vaccinated themselves. Heard immunity is important, particularly when you’re talking about people who are working closely together day in, and day out, and in such a germ-infested place as a hospital! This is not necessarily the case for other places of employment.

    1. I think you’re confusing heard immunity with contact immunity. In a hospital, the patients by far outnumber the number of nurses so those unvaccinated patients would contribute greatly to the spread of disease.

      Which is why it makes no sense that those not washing their hands should remain unpunished. Are you claiming that vaccinated patients would not be protected?

      So please, stop avoiding the question: do you think that it should be law, or that other groups who work with vulnerable populations be forced to get the vaccine?

      1. Should it be law? I think so, yes, though maybe if education on vaccinations were better, there wouldn’t need to BE a law.

        Forced? No.

        They could always choose a different career choice.

        Also, it is already law for children to be vaccinated in most cases before they start school. Why is this any different? Should we stop making it law for children to be vaccinated?

    1. I just wonder where it ends then, Marilove. This sets a dangerous precedent. Can employers fire people then for not getting regular checkups, for not getting any vaccine they deem important? Not a pretty thing to imagine.

        1. You could say the same thing about the proposed bill that said employers could pass on paying for birth control pills if it was against their religion. This led to the idea that religious reasons were a perfectly good reason to deny someone access to health insurance.

          Would you argue that was merely an invalid slippery slope argument?

          1. This is a poor analogy, man.

            Besides, religious exemptions already exist. A religious excemption, however, is not the same thing as just deciding not to get vavccinated (according to the law).

          2. @Luna – that is a terrible analogy. There is no scientific reason to deny employees birth control. What this article (about the nurse not getting a flu shot) says basically is that, since she believes the flu shot is bad, and since this is a religious-like belief (there is no evidence to back up her belief), it should be protected under freedom of religion. So as long as someone believes something that has no evidence it should be protected?

        2. They work at the same hospitals and clinics that regularly hand vaccine information out to patients, I would think they have plenty of access to good information.

          Sadly, not at all. I can tell you from sitting in on some nursing classes (they overlapped with our vet tech program) that for one, not all professors have compelling arguments for real-world issues.

          Secondly, if a nurse like the one in that story has worked there for 22 years, she surely hasn’t had time to take courses or lectures that give updated information or tell about how vaccines have improved in safety.

          Have you seen those pamphlets? Some of them are awful. They’re generic and not at all compelling. They contain general information that does nothing to address what people may have heard in the media; forget about in a hospital all sorts of rumors could be spread about the “dangers” of vaccines.

          If someone as saavy as a nurse hears rumors from peers about vaccines, only an experienced epidemiologist could allay their fears and educate them on the most recent findings.

    2. Marilove, I think you brought up a good point here; often times it is because of unscientific thinking.

      So, before firing these people who have devoted decades to this job (probably for crap pay), why not try educating them first?

      Get an epidemiologist to give a free lecture on the vaccine; let people ask questions. Often times this is all it takes to allay fears and get people to comply.

      1. Yes, because even after that crazy anti-vacc guy in the UK or whatever (forget his name, don’t really care at the moment) was PROVEN TO BE A TOTAL LIAR AND FRAUD, people tooootally stopped being anti-vacc. Yep. Totally happened. :D

        Oh, wait…

        1. That was in the media; do you really think that’s the best forum for medical education?

          I’m talking about a private lecture. In the vet clinics and even at the MSPCA where I worked we would get prominent veterinarians to lecture about all sorts of topics.

          That gave me resources and knowledge that I never would have had otherwise.

          1. They work at the same hospitals and clinics that regularly hand vaccine information out to patients, I would think they have plenty of access to good information.

  6. @Marilove I didn’t realize it was law in some places for kids to be vaccinated. Thanks for that info.

    I agree with what you said; education is a good step. I think firing the nurses should have been a last resort. If the hospital could have at least lifted a finger educating them, it would have empowered the nurses to spread that knowledge onto other people, their patients, and the general public.

    1. It looks like firing the nurses was a last resort. They announced the policy change in September, and gave everyone an opportunity to comply. Those fired were nurses who flatly refused to get vaccinated, not those who had just forgotten to do so. Normally, there is an educational component to these policy changes, as well.

      In any event, in response to your comment above, “And this smacks of sexism, by the way. Why no mention of doctors? Are you seriously telling me only the nurses had to get the vaccine?,” I would note that most of the time doctors are not employees of a hospital. Perhaps credentials could be denied to a doctor who is not vaccinated, but that is a very different process from managing existing nurse employees.

      1. Wow. So doctors who have might have their hands all over patients as much as the nurses, might not be vaccinated? Unbelievable.

    2. I didn’t realize that there were places where it *wasn’t* the law that kids had to be vaccinated to go to school. Maybe this is a nationality thing? Are you not in the US?

  7. Luna says “Can employers fire people then for not getting regular checkups, for not getting any vaccine they deem important? Not a pretty thing to imagine.”

    Luna, this is already the case in South Australia and it is universally seen as a good thing. Only in the crazy USA would it be seen as infringement on your rights.

    All employees of SA Health (regardless of gender or job classification) are required to have their immune status checked for 5 different diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, Hep B, etc.)

    Testing and vaccination are free so everybody regards it as a bonus. There are implications on Workcover OH&S regulations as well as on patient safety.

    So what you are talking about is already world’s best practice. USA has a lot of catching up to do.

    1. I would be fascinated to read about this practice, Jack. Do you have a link?

      Also enlighten me; don’t they have some sort of universal health care access in Australia?

      1. When I get to work I can find the email and do some copypasta.

        “Also enlighten me; don’t they have some sort of universal health care access in Australia?”

        Fuck yeah. Best system in the world except for Canada, I believe. Even little Johnny Jackboots did not dare to touch Medicare!

        Paid for by a 2% levy on taxable income and supported by supplementary private health insurance – also partly government subsidised.

        Middle class welfare FTW! I suppose you pity us for being ground into the dirt by pinko commie government?

        1. Ah, I see you are into the being an asshole style of communication like Marilove and Will. Actually I asked because my point was, the system in Australia is probably much more conductive to an educated public who get free vaccinations and therefore are more open to the idea of science.

          Whereas an uneducated public is more likely to produce nurses who cling to religion and fear vaccinations. It takes education, Jack, to undo that. Firing nurses while sucking up to doctors (apparently they’re gods, so they can’t get the flu) is hypocritical and obscene.

          I’m sorry I wasted a good argument on you, Jack, since you’ve got your heart set on the idea that I’m a right winger. Even though I voted for Jill Stein and I have a Master’s Degree in Biology.

          Still think you should provide that link so you have a shred of credibility.

          1. Luna, That last you was y’all ie USA not Luna. I get into trouble with this all the time.

            Yes I was being a bit facetious about the USA in general but not at your expense.

            I’m sure you are not a right winger.

          2. “Firing nurses while sucking up to doctors (apparently they’re gods, so they can’t get the flu) is hypocritical and obscene.”

            I couldn’t agree more, and if you look at my comment history, I have a consistent POV on that sort of thing.

        2. Thanks Jack, sorry I took it the wrong way. Although I hear Americans being painted with the same brush all the time, and it’s a tad unfair.

          But it’s true enough in some cases. :)

    2. B-b-b-but!! What about the slippery slope, Luna’s favorite argument?!?!?!

      And, yeah, Wakfield, I was talking about him, the douche. :)

  8. I can’t believe that rape story. It seems like much of that town IS indeed victim blaming and perp-covering.

    Anyone need anymore proof that rape culture and slut shaming is alive and thriving?

  9. @Luna

    I looked up IU Health’s Influenza Patient Safety Program under which these people were fired. Here’s what I found:

    – The program was announced in October 2011 (in other words, this was not a surprise). Employees were allowed to refuse a vaccine that year.
    – For 2012-2013 flu season, employees were no longer allowed to refuse vaccination. Flu shots were made available at no cost during work hours on work premises. Further, IU Health offered multiple alternatives to injections, including a flu mist and a preservative-free solution.
    – Employees were allowed to apply for exemption, which was evaluated by a medical panel and/or a religious panel on its merits. If it was denied, the employee was permitted to appeal the decision to a statewide panel of experts.
    – Employees who failed to meet the requirements were given opportunity to remedy the situation, including a written warning and a suspension before termination (in addition to the 1+ year of time they had to get more information).
    – According to IU, there have been 175 terminations (not only 8 as mentioned in the news story). And the process is still ongoing, so that number will continue to rise as people refuse to meet the requirements.

    Ultimately, this seems like an extremely fair system. Employees were given ample opportunity to either get vaccinated or apply for an exemption or apply to work elsewhere.

    To answer your questions:
    1) Yes, health care workers who refuse to wash their hands at work should be fired. “Not” washing hands and “refusing to wash hands” are not the same thing. They are putting other people’s health at risk by refusing to wash their hands or refusing to get vaccinated, which is antithetical to their job description.
    2) Yes, there should be laws requiring vaccinations for health care workers. And teachers and daycare workers. And people who care for the elderly. Where is the line drawn? Where there are not people working with sick and/or vulnerable populations. Honestly, I think any public employee should be required by the state to get vaccinated, regardless of what they do. It is better for public health, which is part of the responsibility of the state.

    1. @Will

      Thank you for that information. I appreciate your input; I was not aware of the evaluation panel.

      In light of that, I am very surprised the nurses were not able to work this out with their employers. I’ll have to read the article again; but do you happen to know why that exemption / appeal process fell short?

      One of the nurses said she had a religious argument; which is a terrible reason for not getting the vaccine however I’m curious what about her religious reason was rejected.

      Do you know if doctors were exempt from the requirement?

      1. I do not know why their exemptions were denied. I’m not sure the process fell short simply because they were denied. They clearly did not make convincing arguments to the panels.

        According to the link I provided, all IU Health employees must comply with the immunization program. This is not a program directed at nurses, it is for all health workers in the IU system. No one is exempted from the requirement based on their employment status–they are exempted only based on convincing medical or religious arguments that are evaluated by panels.

        1. And, I want to add, I’m sure part of the thing that makes the arguments convincing is an argument that demonstrates why an individual’s need outweighs the needs of the patients. There’s got to be a really high burden of exemption in that case.

          Part of this seems to stem from the idea that “I’m an individual and I should be able to make decisions about my own body,” but that’s simply not true for people who work in health care because they pose more of a public health risk than the average person. The decisions people make (such as refusing to wash hands or get vaccinated or wear germ-resistant clothing like scrubs) in these settings can kill people.

          1. I’ve seen health care workers get on the subway or go to a bar with their scrubs still on. That’s kinda scary.

            (I know scrubs are supposed to be germ free; but seeing as how doctors change their scrubs frequently, I’m not sure it’s completely germ free, LOL)

      2. ps @Will I apologize for any past name-calling.

        Reread the article; the nurse in question did go through the appeals process. The deadline for vaccination was Dec 15 and the firing was Dec 21st. Seems like an awfully short time.

        The article states, just as I suspected, that there is a persistent rumor in the nursing community that they will get sick from the vaccine.

        I seriously think that they should have handled this differently. First of all, why are they hiring nurses who are afraid of vaccines in the first place?

        They should inform nursing applicants of the vaccine requirement, but unless the nurses upon being hired agreed to strongarmed vaccinations, this violates their civil rights.

        The hospital could and should have taken different action. They could have easily limited the nurse’s interaction with non-vaccinated prime age patients and lowered their working hours.

        They did not say anything about updating their education. I don’t want to be in a hospital where nurses are afraid of vaccines anyway; what good does that do?

        1. She could have gone through the appeals earlier. If that’s the case, let’s assume the deadline was Dec. 15. She refused and received a written warning. She refused again on Dec. 16 and received a suspension. Let’s pretend it was for 3 days. She returned to work on Dec. 20 and refused again, and was told tomorrow would be her final day at work.

          It doesn’t seem like an awfully short time if she underwent the appeals process beforehand.

          First of all, why are they hiring nurses who are afraid of vaccines in the first place?

          Good question! I don’t have an answer.

          They should inform nursing applicants of the vaccine requirement, but unless the nurses upon being hired agreed to strongarmed vaccinations, this violates their civil rights.

          What civil rights are being violated? They are allowed to refuse the vaccine, they just cannot continue to work there. They are not being forced by the state to vaccinate. I’m curious which civil rights you think are being violated by changing the terms of employment.

          The hospital could and should have taken different action. They could have easily limited the nurse’s interaction with non-vaccinated prime age patients and lowered their working hours.

          As has already been pointed out, that does not necessarily decrease the likelihood of spreading the flu. It would still allow the flu to be spread around–just because they’re not working with vulnerable populations doesn’t mean they cannot spread the flu and that it cannot then get to those vulnerable populations.

          1. You make some compelling points, Will. I agree on some levels and I’m glad you alerted me to the guidelines.

            Also very glad doctors are expected to follow the same rules. That seems more logical than what I had previously thought.

          2. Also kind of scary they hired nurses who base their medical “beliefs” on religion. Not sure I want someone like that treating me when I’m in the hospital!

            Yikes. :)

          3. I’m pretty sure your civil rights stop when your incorrect understanding of reality causes other people to die.

            Seriously, we need to nip this stuff in the bud. If you don’t believe in medicine, you can’t practice it. If you don’t think a vaccination is a good idea, you hold beliefs that are contrary to basic facts. It’s dangerous.

            I can’t help but think of that article I read where a woman with HIV breast-fed her children to death and was hailed as a hero.

  10. “First of all, why are they hiring nurses who are afraid of vaccines in the first place?”

    I can answer that. This was an older nurse and the mandatory vaccination policy is relatively new.

    1. Good point! Although as Will said, dozens if not more nurses have been fired for the same thing; is there any chance these nurses were not properly educated or listened to the media over science?

      I don’t know that being older automatically means you’re more ignorant.

      1. is there any chance these nurses were not properly educated or listened to the media over science?

        Sure, but they’ve had over a year to sort it all out. I’m guessing that being a denialist is not grounds for exemption under this policy.

      2. I can sort of understand the mentality. BTW I agree with your point about education.

        We older ones get a bit sick of the desk jockeys making up new policies all the time just because they can when they have spent the last 20 years or more NOT working in a ward (or in my case, in the lab).

        Why the fuck don’t they do something about MRSA for instance? Far more serious but more difficult to address, so they do something easy instead. Something they can blame the workers for when something goes wrong.

        1. I mean we’ve seen it all before.

          Legionaire’s Disease.
          They turn up the hot water temperature. A few years later a patient gets burned, so they turn down the temperature.

          Rinse and repeat. Endlessly. Genius at work. Energy saving. Cost saving. Accreditation. Write this into the Method. Write it out again. Change the Template. Put it all in a different order and make sure nothing gets left out.

          Keeps ’em all busy, justifies their worthless existence but makes life impossible at the coalface.

  11. @Will sounds about right.

    @Jack that’s a problem that’s rarely seen from the outside world; I think the desk jockeys might be younger and also some are simply the business / money making end of things, where they have no idea what goes on in the trenches, where actual patients reside.

    This is why I think politicians should have to live for one year on minimum wage. So they know what they’re actually governing.

    1. Yes, I think I said something similar but more extreme about politicians at one point but my comment went into moderation for 2 days so you might have missed it!

      You guys should know my tongue is firmly in cheek a lot of the time.

  12. @Victoria I agree that nurses should understand the science however I don’t think civil rights are as simple as what you mentioned.

    Among those nurses at least some may have built up a strong rapport with their patients. Has anyone stopped to think about them?

    Knowing a bit about how bigger hospitals work (my sister is a nurse so I know it somewhat) it’s entirely possible they treated the nurses in a generic fashion.

    Maybe one nurse was religious. Another may have been paranoid about the vaccine. Yet another may have seen a patient have a severe reaction, another may feel like the ultimatum is unfair. Each of these people must be addressed in their own element. That is not going to happen with some stupid pamphlet.

    If the hospital thinks they’re getting rid of 8 terrible nurses, great. Good riddance. But if any of them earned the trust of their patients, or otherwise had unique talents or skills, they needed to have worked much harder than they did.

    CAVEAT: I stand by my statement assuming the hospital did not offer lectures / one on one time with an expert. Time does not educate; more is needed. If the hospital did offer something like this, then just ignore my statement.

    1. In other words I’m acknowledging that I don’t understand the entire story of what the hospital did, but as a general statement for all hospitals with this policies, there is a right way and a wrong way to address the situation.

  13. Luna, here’s the relevant part from our OH&S newsletter.

    Issue date: Jan-Feb 2011
    For the past decade, University Health have managed SA Pathology’s Immunisation Program. SA Pathology cares for its staff and wishes to ensure that all staff are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

    Whilst a new draft Health Care Worker Immunisation program policy directive has been developed by SA Health and is currently under consultation. The new program will require all NEW staff to undertake a Pre-Employment Health Assessment.

    Until a new program is implemented, an interim arrangement has been approved by the Executive Director.

    SA Pathology staff (new or existing) will be required to visit their own GP to get a referral to have the appropriate blood tests. Your results will go back to your GP who will advise you of your immunity status. If your immunity status requires you to be vaccinated, your GP it will in most cases, write you a prescription.

    Please make sure that you do not compromise your vaccine by storing incorrectly.– it must be refrigerated according to instructions. Vaccines should be administered by a qualified immunisation nurse as soon as possible.

    Summary of Interim Arrangements

    • Make an appointment with GP and ask for IMVS referral for a blood test for the following standard tests:
    HBV (Hepatitis B)
    MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella)
    Pertussis/Boostrix (Whooping Cough)
    VZV (Varicella Zoster), ADT (Tetanus/Diphtheria) only required if not vaccinated in past 10 years
    Polio (Poliomyelitis) only required if never previously been vaccinated with an adult dose.

    • Your results will be sent to your GP who will inform you of your immunity status.
    • GP may write a prescription for vaccine requirements and will arrange for vaccine to be administered.
    • SA Pathology will reimburse the cost of the immunization upon receipt of a Tax Invoice.

    Record keeping

    It is important to let the OHS Branch know when you receive your initial vaccination so that the Branch can advise you when you are due for re-testing at 3 and 6 months intervals following your initial treatment.
    For further information please contact the OHS Branch


  14. Sorry about the long copypasta above, doc not available online.

    Re the 4 billion year old bacteria, when the spokesman said

    “The tourism market would be very, very limited because I mean there are only so many people who really get their jollies out of watching or looking at bits of rock,”

    – I thought “ooo, I know LOTS of folks who would really get their jollies out of that!!”

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