In the last month, a number of hospitals have implemented the mandatory masking policy, including Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport, UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Lawrence General Hospital, Boston Medical Center to name a few. Since the policy has been implemented, the MNA/NNU has received dozens of calls and emails from nurses raising concerns about the policy. The organization has also received reports of nurses who have had negative reactions to the vaccine.
A case in point occurred a few weeks ago after the implementation of the mandatory masking policy at Boston Medical Center. Karen Higgins, RN, a critical care nurse with a history of asthma who has had negative reactions in the past to the flu vaccine, wrestled for days with the decision to take the vaccine or, if she refused, to be forced to wear a mask all day every day.
“I know that with my asthma, there was no way I could withstand wearing a mask for that long without compromising my health,” Higgins explains. Higgins is a former president of the MNA/NNU and is the current co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest nurses union. “I was placed in an untenable situation. I decided to take the vaccine or face disciplinary action. The results were disastrous.”
The day after taking the vaccine, Higgins began to feel ill, the following day, while at work she developed severe respiratory distress and was sent to the emergency department, and later she was admitted to her own intensive care unit, this time as a patient to restore her breathing. She was out of work for the next four days.
“I was incensed,” Higgins says. “I was just lucky that I was in the hospital when I had the reaction. If I was at home alone, I could have died. This never should have happened, and no nurse should be forced to make this choice, especially when we know that masking provides no real benefit to our patients.”
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