Hospitals should make flu shots mandatory for health-care workers, journal says

TORONTO – The Canadian Medical Association Journal is adding its voice to calls for mandatory flu shots for health-care workers.

The journal says hospital workers ought to be vaccinated to protect frail elderly patients whose immune systems are so weakened they don’t get much protection from a flu shot themselves.

There’s been a growing movement of late towards requiring health-care workers to take a flu shot, especially in the United States.

Earlier this year British Columbia became the first Canadian jurisdiction to require health-care workers to get flu shots.

From Dec. 1 until the end of March, any health-care worker in B.C. who hasn’t had a flu shot will have to wear a mask while caring for patients.

The journal’s support for mandatory flu shots is expressed in an editorial in this week’s issue.

The editorial was written by Dr. Ken Flegel, senior associate editor of the journal and a general internal medicine specialist who practises at Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre.

He says hospitals these days are filled with very fragile patients whose health conditions put them at serious risk of dying from influenza if they contract it.

Despite that, many of the health-care workers taking care of them don’t get flu shots, Flegel says, and many come to work when they are ill.

Even if they didn’t, people who are coming down with the flu are infectious for about a day before they know they are sick. And some people who contract flu have no symptoms, or such mild symptoms that they don’t realize they are infected and spreading the virus.

Those factors create a situation where health-care workers can be transmitting flu to the very people they are caring for, Flegel says.

“And is that fair? Would you like to have it happen to your grandmother or your mother, when she’s already sick with a cancer? Or an auto-immune disease?” he asks.

“We doctors see that in the hospital.”