Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is Swine Flu Paranoia Justified?

Here's the question:

Do you have any idea about what are our rights when it comes to swine flu? Like for example, my friend got sick, and her school made her go to the hospital, where they injected her with multiple things--she has no idea what--and then gave her several unknown drugs to take. A week or so later, she still had a cough, so they made her go back to the hospital, where they gave her Tamiflu, and her school ordered her to take it. I'm not sure how much you know about influenza or Tamiflu.....but that was the most illogical move imaginable. She even got tested for swine flu, and the test says she doesn't have it!

Will I get deported if I don't let them inject me with things? Can your school order you to take drugs? I'm so scared!
I knew this was going to happen. A couple weeks ago, I had a sick teacher who claimed he had a fever. Fair enough, so he stayed home. When I told my boss we had a sick teacher, the immediate reaction was that he had to go to the hospital to get tested for swine flu. I calmed the situation by taking a possible gamble and saying that he didn't have a fever or flu-like symptoms. Of course if he did have H1N1, I could have been risking the health of co-workers and students, but I presumed he didn't and was correct.

I did that (and perhaps it was wrong, but I'm no bioethicist) and avoided my teacher being forced to the hospital and my institute being closed for a week or so. However, this situation raises some serious questions: Can an employer force an employee to be vaccinated? Is it a business decision, government policy or genuine health concern?

And if an employer forces an employee to stay at home or go to the doctor against their will, should they be compensated for the missed wages or any incured costs?

Big questions really. I understand that a school might need to close its doors for a week or so, but only in the case that students' have been confirmed to have had contracted the virus. Many public and private schools have done this. If a teacher contracts it, then they need to seek treatment and be absent from school. I also don't see a problem with an employer forcing an employee to get tested for the virus. Payment is a different story and I imagine each school is different.

Treatment is another animal.

The title of the questioners email was "Swine Flu Madness" which was reminiscent  of our beloved Mad Cow protests a couple years ago. This fear, however, is infinitely more legitimate  and grounded in genuine concern and not politics (unlike the US). Last week alone, the number of cases more than doubled in Korea and have shown no signs of slowing. (Here for wolrd trends.) That trend is quite troubling from a public health stance and, if you look at its effects on the ground, the reality of the public's fear is becoming real and a strain on private education.

I know that enrollment is steadily (and probably temporarily) decreasing in many cram schools. I understand that 수능 is around the corner, but I fear that after the tests, some hagwons will have drastic drops in enrollment. My classes, which are usually packed, are hovering at 70% what they used be and even enrolled students are staying home. While it doesn't affect my pay, it's devastating to the school and since I'm the manager, this is a problem for me. If one of my teachers was ill with swine flu-like symptoms, we would certainly force encourage them to get the proper treatment as prescribed by Western medicine. They could refuse of course, but at the same time it would be totally irresponsible of  me, the teacher and the school to allow that teacher back in the building before they're cured. The main goal is containment.

In the end, I think that schools have some ground to stand on when forcing teachers to be vaccinated or treated. There is nothing wrong with a school asking you to get tested and if you have something, get it treated...for yourself. WebMD doesn't have all the answers.

So, let's get to your questions:

If your friend doesn't have swine flu and is certain of that fact, then tell her not to take the medicine. There is a chance though that the doctors are not being "illogical" and that they -perhaps- might know better than say, a teacher?

I don't think that you can be deported for not getting shots, but a school could fire you which would lead to a cancellation of your visa. Sounds harsh, but make sure you get tested for the flu first. If they try to stick you with something BEFORE knowing what you have, then I would be suspect. Again, I don't think schools are wrong for being paranoid. This is not only a financial issue, but a public health issue as well.

Also, your school should not be able to force you to get shots without having any traces of the virus. As of now,  the "health ministry said inoculations will be administered first to medical staff, patients, the elderly, pregnant women and infants." You are not in that category, but you do have a lot of exposure. No one can force you to take medicine except yourself. If you believe that you do not need medication, then don't take it. They won't be pinching your nose, Indian Jones-style.

Let me finish up with this question for you guys as I know some of you are on flu vacation:

If an employer forces an employee to stay at home or go to the doctor against their will, should they be compensated for the missed wages or any incured costs?


Breda said...

"If one of my teachers contracted the virus, we would certainly force encourage them to get vaccinated or get the proper treatment."

1) There is no cure for any type of flu.

2) A vaccine only prevents the flu. It does not do anything for someone who already has it.

3) Drugs like Tamiflu only shorten the duration of your illness caused by the flu. They do not make the flu go away, do not make you non-contagious--they do not cure the flu.

4) The only cure is time! In the U.S., the CDC recommends that anyone who thinks they have the flu stay home and get well, and not go to the hospital!

People really need to understand the flu and the medicine associated with it.

The Expat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Expat said...

I edited the main post a little to reflect some of your points. Thanks.

Yet as much as I understand and agree with what you're saying, it's just not the reality on the ground. Perception is everything on this front. For the same reason people wear masks and stop attending classes, schools struggle to know what to do when confronted with this flu or a teacher gets sick.

It would go like this:

Administration: Your teacher is sick today and will be absent be for a week.

Student: Why?

Admin: He/she has swine flu.

Student: I'd like a new teacher or a refund.

Perception trumps.

Do I like it? No, but ignoring this pseudo-reality doesn't make much sense either. Schools are clearly overreacting to this because of student and parents attitude.

Who is in the position to change this situation? -not the schools. Therefore, you've got to play the cards you've been dealt.

Shawn Hudson said...

I'll be teaching for EPIK in March 2010.

How does this scenario differ in a public school?

The Expat said...

Public schools are subject to government closure policy, but principals can use discretion.


Brian said...

I'm not sure how it'd work in hagwon---I suspect if they closed the employers would keep employees' wages---but in public schools teachers should get paid for the time off.

I'll add that some of the measures taken haven't been sensible---such as at first rendering this as a foreigners' disease, and thinking that kimchi is the answer---but I think schools are justified doing what they feel they need to do. Teachers should be responsible for and about what they're putting in their body, but they also shouldn't be difficult and cause a stink. As you said, we ought to trust medical professionals over the opinions of EFL teachers, even if these medical professionals are sometimes . . . well, you know.

Chris in South Korea said...

I can see the business point of view - after all, if you're not able to use a service, you don't expect to pay for it.

But forced vaccinations? I can't see that happening anytime soon... although the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Could a school really fire you for refusing to take flu medicine? Seems doubtful. Also, there are rules on sick leave for employees. Just because they aren't well observed doesn't mean they don't technically exist and shouldn't be followed.

The Expat said...

A school could really fire you for a number of reasons, but it wouldn't be as simple as not taking medicine. They would add in a lot of other "charges" to beef up their case and make it go over smoother.

Sick days for foreign teachers are typically pretty low and most schools won't tolerate an extended leave. If you have a good relationship with your manager or school, then maybe you'll get a little extra sway, but I wouldn't count on it.

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