Flu shots should be mandatory for health-care workers, says chief medical officer

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer says flu shots should be mandatory for health-care workers.

Only 36 per cent of Nova Scotians got their flu shot last year, but the number was only slightly better (41 per cent) for health-care workers classified as acute-care staff.

According to the Department of Health and Wellness, the target is 80 per cent. Historically, only about 50 per cent of health-care workers get the flu shot each year.

"The evidence is very clear that the one thing that actually gets you close to where you need to be percentage-wise is a policy that requires a health-care worker to be vaccinated or wear a mask during influenza season," said Dr. Robert Strang.

On Wednesday morning, Strang made a presentation on Nova Scotia's influenza coverage at a Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) board meeting. He said a mandatory flu shot policy for health-care workers would help save lives.

The Canadian Press

"British Columbia has adopted it and it's been looked at here in Nova Scotia, but it has never moved forward for a number of reasons," said Strang. "We need to do everything we can as health-care workers to protect patients from infection."

The flu, together with pneumonia, ranks among the 10 leading causes of death in Canada.

While some years can be worse than others, it's estimated an average of 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths are related to the flu each year.

Strang said those numbers show there is no legitimate reason for health-care workers not to get their flu shot.

"There's been a lot of challenges and changes to the health-care system, a lot of human-resource issues, those are the reasons I've been given," said Strang. "What I'm suggesting to the NSHA board today is that maybe the time is right to revisit that."