Health Sciences North’s decision to force hospital workers to be vaccinated against influenza is the right move.
Not only does it protect workers themselves from coming down with the flu, more importantly, it protects patients those workers are hired to serve.
Most healthy people can battle the flu bug without few ill effects, other than the effects of being ill from the flu itself. And while those ill effects are certainly unpleasant, for most of us, they are not deadly.
Healthy people, however, are generally not admitted to hospital.
Illness and injury impair the body’s ability to fight infection and that is exactly what influenza is, a viral infection.
With their weakened and compromised immune systems, patients’ ability to stave off infection is lowered, putting them at much greater risk of contracting a virus and, once contracted, battling it.
What this can mean for some is a flu bug that their bodies normally could have fought fairly easily can run rampant, leading to more severe infection, longer recovery times and even death.
The estimates for the number of Canadians who die from the effects of influenza every year vary widely. Those estimates are arrived at using computer modelling, not real-world statistics.
Flu death statistics are not tracked, apparently, although they probably should be, especially if you want to convince people they need to be vaccinated against it — estimates don’t really cut the mustard compared to real numbers.
In the early 2000s, it was estimated between 500 and 1,500 Canadians died yearly from influenza or complications related to it. Toward the middle of the decade, Health Canada changed the computer model it used to create those estimates and upped the numbers greatly, to between 2,000 and 8,000 people.
So, although nailing down the exact number of flu deaths every year is difficult, the fact remains that the illness kills people. It kills young children and the elderly; it kills the sick and the injured.
Whether influenza kills hundreds or thousands really is not the point though. Anything a hospital can do to prevent the sick or injured from contracting an illness, it should do.
If that means giving employees the choice of getting a simple needle, wearing a mask or going home until one of the two previous conditions is met, so be it.
The momentary discomfort of a needle or sporting a stuffy mask is a pretty minor compared to someone’s life and health.
CUPE Local 1623 president Dave Shelefontiuk said his members have flooded him with complaints about Health Sciences North’s move to protect patients.
The local’s members include ward clerks, housekeeping workers, patient porters and registered practical nurses.
Shelefontiuk told Northern Life the complaints fall into two categories — those who say the flu shot makes them sick and those who simply do not want want to be injected with the vaccine.
Anyone who has gotten a flu shot knows that for some people, the vaccine can bring on mild flu-like symptoms, the key words there being “mild” and “flu-like.” The discomfort normally doesn’t last longer than a day for the few people who actually get the symptoms.
What the vaccine cannot do is give someone influenza. The virus is killed. It’s dead. It can no longer cause illness.
As for those who simply oppose being vaccinated, that is really not much of an argument against the policy. Most everyone encounters aspects of their jobs that they dislike. It’s just a fact of life.
The vaccine does not put workers at risk for anything a bandage can’t fix and offers them protection from getting sick.
What it does for patients and their families though, is something altogether different. It offers them protection and it offers them peace of mind.