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Can J Public Health. 2008 May-Jun;99(3):192-4.

What's public? What's private? Policy trade-offs and the debate over mandatory annual influenza vaccination for health care workers.

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  • 1Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.


Policy decisions about public health services differ from those for personal health services. Both require trade-offs between such policy goals as liberty, security, efficiency, and equity. In public health, however, decisions about who will approve, pay for, and deliver services are often accompanied by decisions on when and how to compel individual behaviour. Policy becomes complex because different stakeholders interpret evidence differently: stakeholders may assign different weights to policy goals and may even define the same goals differently. In the debate over mandatory annual influenza vaccination for health care workers, for example, proponents as well as opponents of mandatory vaccination may convey arguments in security terms. Those in favour of mandatory vaccination emphasize subclinical infections and duty of care (public security) while those opposed emphasize risk of adverse events (personal security). Proponents assert less worker absenteeism (efficiency) while opponents stress coercion and alternate personal infection control measures (liberty and individual rights/responsibilities). Consequently, stakeholders talk past each other. Determining the place of mandatory influenza vaccination for health care workers thus demands reconciling policy trade-offs and clarifying the underlying disputes hidden in the language of the policy debate.

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