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You can’t force someone to get a flu shot, but what do you do when that person is dealing with the sick and elderly?

That’s the dilemma facing health agencies all across Canada and the U.S. But attempts to force the issue are running up against union resistance.

In British Columbia, unions are complaining that a new flu shot policy breaches privacy rights. The province has mandated all front-line health workers to either get a flu shot or wear a mask during flu season.

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, told CTV News that the policy will prevent the spread of the flu, which can be deadly for elderly patients.  

“It’s not mandatory flu shots, it’s an influenza control program,” Kendall said. “Unfortunately, despite all our efforts on educating and getting voluntary compliance, on average, the health-care worker influenza (immunization) rates across Canada have been below 50 per cent.”

That’s an astonishingly low number. And, knowing how well-established and effective the vaccine is, it represents a surprisingly dismissive attitude on the part of those who work with the sick.

The science of flu vaccines has been around for the better part of a century. As for its effectiveness, one need only look at statistics. The Spanish flu of 1918-1919 killed up to 50 million people worldwide. The swine flu pandemic of 2009: less than 15,000.

Earlier this month, Public Health Ontario called for the flu shot to be mandatory for all health-care workers in the province, urging it to be a condition of employment in hospitals, nursing homes, home care or in any kind of community setting.

According to the Toronto Star, the agency said voluntary use of the annual vaccine has not been high enough, even though, at 60 per cent, it’s higher than the national average.

Ontario’s health minister said province-wide mandatory vaccination is not on the radar yet. But inoculation has been made mandatory at one hospital in North Bay and a handful of public health units.

In central Newfoundland, the health authority has taken a different approach. Central Health announced a policy whereby staff who are not inoculated must stay home without pay in the event of a flu outbreak.

Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses’ Union president Debbie Forward said the move is heavyhanded and discriminatory. She urged stepping up education efforts.

But, as statistics show, education is not meeting with much success. Odd, since nowhere is a worker more immersed in the marvels of modern medicine than in a hospital.

The problem is not so much the level education, but the comparable spread of misinformation. Vaccines, in general, have come under fire in recent years by zealous fringe groups who propagate myths and lies about their efficacy and dangers.

In the age of the Internet and social media, everyone is inundated by these quack theories. Fearmongers troll the web, searching out vaccine stories and posting ominous tales of dangerous side-effects and complications.

Health workers should be more responsible. But forcing them to get a shot raises numerous thorny issues of personal rights and freedoms.

If only there was a vaccine against misinformation.

Organizations: CTV News, Toronto Star

Geographic location: Canada, U.S., British Columbia Ontario North Bay Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Sang Riel
    October 30, 2012 - 15:56

    Google SV40 Polio Vaccine. This years flu vaccine is to protect you against last years flu.Wont do a damn thing for this years already mutated variety.I love how they vaguely use the word contaminant.SV40 was a "Contaminant" Why the hush hush about what they found in it ? Go ahead get your flu shot. I dare ya !

  • Doug Brekken
    Doug Brekken
    October 28, 2012 - 03:20

    Ever remember back to when you were a kid? was there this seasonal fear frenzy to run out and getting vaccinated? Influenza has been with us for a very long time. Death rates have not changed much in 40 years from the virus, the only thing that has changed is the heavy presence of doctors and pharmaceutical reps telling us how bad we are because we havent rushed out to get vaccinated. doesnt anyone feel conned that for years we have been told how our elderly must get vaccinated, only to be told now, millions of shots and dollars later, that the vaccine is not effective on this age group? Why dont we just shackle the slaves and force them to be vaccinated? However, dont think in a few years, the government wont be forcing something that is inneffective and unproven on you to....

  • Tania Irish
    Tania Irish
    October 28, 2012 - 02:57

    Yes, if only there was a vaccine against misinformation. Maybe we wouldnt be in the clenches of a government that is perpetuating fear based on false evidence. I am a healthcare worker and I am utterly offended by your comments. First, and foremost, we live in CANADA. We support self determination for every member of society - to force, or coherse consent for a medical procedure is assault and defiles medical ethics. Do you REALLY think that healthcare workers are reckless by nature? think again, maybe health care workers know how to critically examine what is credible and what is junk science. To date, there has never been a single publically funded double blind, randomized placebo trial for the flu vaccine. Evidence reviews who throw out influenza dogma junk science from leading statisticians like cochrane etc show that there is NO evidence to support that influenza vaccination status of the worker affects transmission of influenza to their elderly patients. We are not anti vaccine, we are anti poor science. We also are not satisfied with the fact that there are no long term studies on the safety of the influenza vaccine. stop and consider that we are humans who deserve the same respect that we show our patients - consider that we are actually concerned that the public is being mislead and getting false reassurances.

    • david
      October 29, 2012 - 15:26

      Tania: You are clearly quite easily offended, so I won't even bother to sugar-coat this. If you trust the government, you're an idiot, If you think Canadian health care workers, let alone Newfounbdland ones, are somehow "extra-professional" about their jobs, instead of being a bunch of whining unionized extortionists, you are an even bigger idiot, And if you think other people shoudl bow down and defer to some complete stranger's idiotic opinion on how they should maintain their health, in sa country with this one's track record for incompetence, you're a self-absorbed pompous jackass.

  • mainlander
    October 27, 2012 - 20:24

    For more proof it's not safe, read this article in today's edition:

  • Anon
    October 27, 2012 - 17:23

    No SealCove this is not a free country.

  • Gord
    October 27, 2012 - 14:24

    I was with the Canadian Forces in 2009, was ordered to get the H1N1 shot (AREPANRIX by GSK GlaxoSmithKline) and had an adverse reaction to the vaccine. I received PERMANENT neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory symptoms: dizziness, vertigo, irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and pain, and numbness in hands and feet. My physical fitness changed from special forces fit to that of a 70 year old in a matter of days. Prior to the vaccination the Department of National Defence (DND) provided information advising side effects "having mild chills and fever a few days following the shot means it is working", and "There is a 1 in 1,000,000 chance of acquiring a serious neurological complication". According to GSKs product information provided by Health Canada, "neurological disorders" are "very rare (may occur with up to 1 in 10,000 doses)" and "if any of these side effects occur, please tell your doctor or nurse immediately" which differs from the information provided to soldiers. The DND also stated "It is not a live vaccine so it cannot give you the flu". According to Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiologist and an influenza expert at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, "In the early weeks of the pandemic that people who got the flu shot (H1N1) for 2008-09 winter seemed to be more likely to get infected with the pandemic virus than people who hadn't received the shot". Another study linked narcolepsy, a neurological disorders to the H1N1 vaccine, "Narcolepsy in association with pandemic influenza vaccination", September 2012, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. You may also query the National Vaccine Information Center database of adverse reactions to vaccines (VAERS) which includes more than 11,465 events (adverse reactions) to the H1N1 vaccine, 3,390 symptoms and 61,500 reactions (more than 5 reactions per record). In the UK, the "FINAL PUBLIC SUMMARY - UK Suspected Adverse Reaction Analysis, Swine Flu (H1N1) Vaccines - Celevanpan and Pandemrix, 26 March 2010" details more than 8,600 suspected reactions classified into 650 reaction names. Other information to consider is from Richard Warrington, President of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, "Vaccination with Arepanrix has led to far more reports of anaphylaxis or significant allergic reactions than is normally expected for a flu vaccine." You may also ask your doctor and other Health care workers if they received the H1N1 vaccination and if they plan to remain up to date with all vaccinations. Reports from Canada, US, India, Hong Kong and other countries note a 50% vaccination rate among those who recommend and administer the immunization. According to Fox News "Most said they would pass on the H1N1 shot ... because they were afraid of side effects and doubted how safe and effective it would be." I asked my doctor and he didn't hesitate in saying "no way". Be informed and please choose wisely if you do plan to have your next flu shot or vaccination.

  • mainlander
    October 27, 2012 - 10:53

    The flu shot is one vaccine that I think is a total scam for the drug companies to make more $$. It's not safe.

  • David
    October 27, 2012 - 10:21

    Making discretionary health care decisions, like a flut shot, on the basis that the goverenmt says so...that would be the Canadian government ---- you know, the one that can't get much of anything right....ever. Some bureacrat in Ottawa has an Excel spreadsheet on his computer that shows that the health care syatem in Canada would be physically and financially overwelmed by a flu epidemic...FYI: its pretty much on the cusp already. So no matter how poorly thought out and misunderstood this specific vaccination is (based on my expereince here, I'd bet the house on it), that it MIGHT be effectiuve is a worthy risk to take....So, how you feeling now? Better?

  • Strange
    October 27, 2012 - 10:20

    That's odd. The majority of health care workers do not get the shot. These are the people who would better than most as to the benefit or usefullness of the shot. And most choose not to get it. Do they know something that we don't?

    • tania irish
      tania irish
      October 28, 2012 - 03:01

      yes Strange, thats exactly what a smart person would think. instead of attacking you would think that healthcare workers resistance would give people pause to think..if you want a research based article explaining a health care workers position please see thanks alot

  • saelcove
    October 27, 2012 - 08:25

    Do we live in a police state or a free country