Vaccination is a touchy topic in the U.S.; every parent or childcare provider has an opinion. The subject of immunization is complex, vast, and oftentimes polarizing; it has earned a prominent position in the country’s cultural conversation, especially over the last few years. In 2014, the book On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss, which explored the philosophical, historical, and scientific implications of the “vaccination debate,” was listed as one of the top 10 best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review.
Much of this attention can be attributed to various claims of connection between vaccination and certain childhood diseases (in particular, autism); though these studies have been largely discredited, the fear persists. What we can all agree on, however, is that the most important thing is what’s best for the child.
Because nannies work with children (many of whom have not completed their immunizations and some of whom may still be too young to have started), they have an even greater responsibility to remain in good health. In addition to the basics—eating well, taking vitamins, and washing their hands frequently—nannies are now often expected to receive vaccine boosters and yearly flu shots in order to keep their charges safe.
How do vaccines work?
According to the Department of Health, vaccines work by triggering our immune system to produce antibodies against a given disease without actually infecting us with that disease. To do this, vaccines contain a weakened version of that disease’s germs. This is a way of exposing people safely to germs so that they can become protected from the disease without first contracting the disease.
Historically, vaccination comes from the practice of inoculation, which was a method for the prevention of smallpox in the late 1700s. People in good health would deliberately infect themselves with smallpox germs by rubbing smallpox material into a small cut between the thumb and forefinger. Because the infection was introduced through the skin rather than the lungs, it led to a less severe infection than naturally acquired smallpox but provided the same immunity.
Which vaccines should a nanny have?
We work with many families who require their nannies be up-to-date on the Tdap (tetanus-diptheria-pertussis/whooping cough) vaccine and receive a yearly flu shot. If they have never had chicken pox, some families also require that they get the varicella vaccine.
Sometimes, families will even request documentation that nannies have completed the standard immunizations from childhood: Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Meningococcal, and MMR vaccines, among others.
Can a family require a nanny to get vaccinated?
A family cannot force a nanny to get vaccinated. However, they can require that any nanny they hire has up-to-date vaccinations. If you are a nanny who is opposed to receiving vaccinations, be aware that this may limit your job opportunities. The wellbeing of the child is always the most important consideration; termination of a contract based on a nanny’s refusal to vaccinate would not be considered wrongful termination. It is best if immunization is discussed prior to employment and included within the nanny contract.
How should a family navigate the vaccination conversation with their current nanny?
If all goes well, your nanny will have no problem with getting a yearly flu shot and ensuring her vaccinations are up-to-date. After all, the health and safety of the children are always a nanny’s greatest priorities.
However, because of the invasive nature of vaccination and the heated debate surrounding the issue, many people are wary of immunizing themselves. We see this most often with the flu shot; for every person who gets one, there’s another who swears that the only time they ever caught the flu was after receiving the vaccine.
When broaching the topic of immunization, it’s important to speak carefully and respectfully. Keep the conversation focused on the wellbeing of the children. Even adults who seem perfectly healthy may be carrying germs that could be dangerous for children, especially as their immune systems are still developing. It’s common practice for the family to cover the cost of the shots. If your nanny refuses to vaccinate, you must accept her decision—but it is perfectly within your rights to terminate the contract on that basis.
How can a family ensure the nanny they hire keeps her vaccinations up-to-date?
When you are considering hiring a nanny, it can be useful to ask them straightforwardly if they have had or would be willing to receive the influenza vaccine, as well as any others your family deems important. Then, if you decide to hire, you can include yearly flu shots and any necessary boosters as a contractual obligation in the nanny contract.
If you have never drawn up a nanny contract before and are unsure of how to do so, it’s best to consult your nanny agency. At the Nanny Authority, our placement counselors are experts in their field and have guided countless families and nannies through the hiring process, as well as provided counsel and support when needed after nannies have been hired. They will be able to advise you on what information should be included and any other questions you may have.