Independent media needs you. Join the Tyee.

The Hook: Political news, freshly caught

BC nurses concerned about choice of flu shots or masks

The B.C. Nurses' Union will meet on Monday with the Health Employers' Association of B.C. and a chief medical officer to discuss a new requirement that all health care workers get a flu shot or wear a mask when dealing with patients.

In an August 23 news release, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control supported the idea of mandatory shots or masks during the flu season:

The influenza vaccine is most effective in healthy adults and protects healthcare workers, their families and their vulnerable patients from influenza. However, health care workers currently have very low vaccine coverage rates. Last year, only 40 per cent of health care workers at acute care facilities and 57 per cent at residential care facilities got the flu vaccine.

Efforts to encourage health care workers to get vaccinated voluntarily have not been effective. In jurisdictions where similar influenza prevention programs have come into effect, close to 99 per cent of health care workers have been vaccinated.

Evidence shows that vaccinating health care workers in long term care facilities can reduce transmission of flu. It's estimated that complete vaccination of health care workers in acute care settings would result in a 43 per cent reduction in the risk of influenza in hospitalized patients.

Patients and long-term care residents should not have to worry about contracting the flu from a health care worker. Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect patients, as well as health care workers themselves and their families.

Other excellent influenza control measures for health care workers include proper hand hygiene, cough etiquette and staying home when sick.

On August 24, the BCNU issued its response:

Nurses are concerned that BC health authorities are making flu shots compulsory for all health care workers without full consultation with staff and consideration of alternatives.

"Our union has always encouraged our members to get a flu shot as a sound preventative health measure," says Margaret Dhillon, Executive Councillor for the BC Nurses' Union. "Nurses are doing their best to provide quality care for patients in very challenging conditions. We have always believed that the flu vaccination program is most effective when it is based on education and not punishment."

Dhillon says considerable work has gone into understanding why many citizens, including healthcare staff are reluctant to get flu shots. The union was part of a joint working group with health employers -- developed during the H1N1 epidemic -- aimed at increasing immunization rates through targeted education and other strategies.

"But for whatever reason health employers failed to follow through with the group's recommendations. The group hasn't met for more than a year and employers instead have opted for this punitive approach," Dhillon said. ...

As a result of concerns expressed yesterday, a meeting has been called for Monday involving BCNU, the Health Employers' Association of BC and a chief medical officer.

The union wants to see and evaluate the science regarding the wearing of masks by staff who have not been immunized. "If masks are effective in preventing infection, why does the announced policy say mask-wearing will be suspended during a flu outbreak, with a return to their old policy excluding non-immunized staff or requiring them to take anti-viral medication?"

Dhillon also questions the health authorities' statement that their "other infection control measures" include "asking staff to stay home when ill."

"I'm not sure how the health authorities square that with their so-called 'attendance management' programs that threaten nurses with discipline when they stay home sick for more than the average number of sick days taken by all employees in the health authority."

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

What have we missed? What do you think? We want to know. Comment below. Keep in mind:


  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Connect with each other

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, flag suspect activity.
comments powered by Disqus