Flu vaccine is a medical matter - allowing it to become a labour-management issue is not good for public health.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority and unions should be working together to ensure all healthcare workers receive flu vaccinations.
VIHA has been trying for several years to raise the rate of vaccinations among health-care workers, which was about 50 per cent last year.
Recently, provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall said unvaccinated workers will be required to wear face masks when treating patients. Those who have been vaccinated will be required to wear stickers as proof of vaccination.
The B.C. Nurses' Union opposes the use of stickers and the Hospital Employees' Union maintains vaccinations should be voluntary. These are not unreasonable positions, but they would be unnecessary if health-care workers simply got vaccinated.
The frustrating thing is that VIHA and the unions agree raising the vaccination rate is good for everyone. They should be able to sit down and work this out.
Patients will benefit, workers will benefit, the public will benefit.
There will always be issues of contention, battles to be fought, between employers and health-worker unions.
This shouldn't be one of them.
It's disturbing that only half of the health-care workers get vaccinated.
The BCNU believes vaccination should be promoted through education, rather than punitive means. But we look to front-line professionals to safeguard our health, individually and collectively. Shouldn't they already be educated on the issue?
Some people worry that flu vaccinations are not effective or that they have side-effects.
It should be stated that a flu shot doesn't make anyone bullet-proof.
Vaccines have wiped out smallpox and have nearly eliminated polio, but that's not likely to happen with influenza, because flu viruses are constantly mutating. Vaccine developed against one strain does not prevent infection from another.
Each season, flu shots are tailored for the viruses most likely to prevail. Often the scientists get it right, sometimes they don't. Getting a flu shot isn't an ironclad guarantee a person won't get the flu.
But overall, vaccination reduces the number and severity of infections. The aim is herd immunity - the more people protected against the disease, the less likely it will spread.
A national study led by researchers at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control showed that H1N1 vaccinations administered during the 2009 flu pandemic were highly effective in 93 per cent of the people who were immunized. That offered protection against the illness in the second wave of the pandemic and reduced the effect of the third wave of the pandemic in 2010, according to a BCCDC epidemiologist.
Information available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that while results vary from year to year, "influenza vaccination benefits public health, especially when the viruses in the vaccine and circulating viruses are well-matched."
A study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that flu vaccination cut in half the risk that elderly patients would die of the disease and reduced hospitalization by a quarter.
It is not unreasonable for VIHA to require all its workers to get flu shots. Unions and management should be working in a spirit of harmony and co-operation to achieve this goal.
© Copyright 2013