Despite accusations that they are “killers of the sick and elderly,” a growing number of B.C. health-care workers are resisting a mandatory flu shot, arguing that it is an issue of personal choice. And now, a union representing thousands of health-care workers in the province, is telling them they have a right to opt out, even if that potentially works against public health efforts to stop the spread of the disease.
“We always encourage our members to get vaccinated, but we also believe that they have a right to make their own personal health choices,” said Miriam Sobrino, spokeswoman with the Health Sciences Association of B.C., the union representing the province’s non-nurse, non-doctor health-care professionals.
An Oct. 18 statement by the union acknowledges that health-care workers may wish to eschew vaccination for any number of factors, including “philosophical or religious objections.”
“They don’t believe in vaccination for whatever reason — I don’t know what the reasons are,” said Ms. Sobrino.
In August, B.C. became the first jurisdiction in Canada to legislate mandatory flu shots for doctors, nurses and any other healthcare worker who may come into contact with patients. In previous years, the rate of inoculation for the province’s health-care workers had been below 50%, one of the lowest in Canada.
“We know that a surprising number of health-care workers will go on working even when they have symptoms of influenza,” provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall told CBC at the time. “Influenza is not a trivial illness, particularly for vulnerable people.”
However, the B.C. Nurses Union immediately struck back at the plan as a “punitive action,” — particularly since it forced the non-vaccinated to spend the flu season wearing a surgical mask.
“It’s just a way to identify the unclean, I think, and stigmatize them into being vaccinated,” said Sara Gough, a Vancouver-based registered nurse who refused the shot.
Ms. Gough said the province's anti-flu shot faction is balking mostly at the “forced nature” of the policy.
“I know nurses who have gotten the shot in previous years who are so angry this year that they’re not getting the vaccine as a protest,” Ms. Gough said.And no doubt they will defend their choice to the last patient.