Swine Flu Vaccine Offers Lessons in Leadership

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media , November 13, 2009

Recently, a nurses' union in New York threatened to strike over a controversial requirement that said they must be vaccinated for H1N1 or lose their jobs. That requirement was soon rescinded. Nearly concurrently, a union in California threatened to strike because they didn't feel hospitals were doing enough to protect them from swine flu infection. Hello! How about getting the vaccine? I know these are different organizations, but what gives?

Many, many smart people have tried to find ways to convince people that the vaccine is not harmful and is important to protecting against a regional, national or global pandemic. Clearly, they've failed.

So how does a leader convey that getting the vaccine is important enough to overcome these irrational fears? How does a leader get buy-in from caregivers regarding any issue that is controversial? I'm not sure.

But I haven't seen the President or any of his cabinet holding a news conference at which they take the vaccination. In fairness, he's said he and the First Lady will wait until high-risk groups get the vaccine before getting it. I appreciate the gesture, but in this case, wouldn't it be better to go on the offensive against some of this irrational fear by getting the vaccine yourself?

I'd love to hear what great leaders have done to sell unpopular initiatives ranging from the importance of the H1N1 vaccine to the long-term wisdom of aligning with physicians through employment, for example. You can reach me at the email address below.

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Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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