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.