Flu shot or mask? B.C. hospitals will make you choose one

Monday marks the official start of flu season in B.C., and health officials say that if you're planning on visiting a hospital or clinic, you'll have to either have had a flu shot already, or you'll need to wear a mask.

'We're not going to be policing it, but we think people will do the right thing.'

A file photo shows a nurse working for Vancouver Island Vaccine loading a syringe with flu vaccine. With the official start of flu season Monday, B.C. is making it mandatory for visitors to hospitals and other health-care settings to wear a mask if they haven't been vaccinated against influenza this fall. (Chuck Stoody/The Canadian Press)

Monday marks the official start of flu season in B.C., and health officials say that if you're planning on visiting a hospital or clinic, you'll have to either have had a flu shot already, or you'll need to wear a mask.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, director of public health emergency management with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, says that between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians, mostly seniors, die each year because of complications from the flu. 

"Every year we have outbreaks, particularly in long-term care homes," she said. "Influenza can be really devastating for people in hospitals  people who are suffering from other illnesses and trying to recover, when their immune systems aren't working that well."

Because officials believe that being vaccinated or wearing a mask helps limit the transmission of influenza, B.C. is now making those preventative measures mandatory for health centre visitors. 

Henry says they'll make it easy for the public to comply.

"We'll have masks available at the entrance to facilities and to the wards," she said. "It's on the honour system. We're not going to be policing it, but we think people will do the right thing."

All health-care workers who see patients will also have to wear a mask if they haven't been vaccinated — a requirement many of them opposed earlier this year.]

An arbitrator upheld the policy saying it was reasonable, considering the risks of influenza — a matter the B.C. Centre for Disease Control takes seriously.

"This is something we're doing across the province to try and protect our vulnerable patients from being exposed to influenza," Henry said.    

With files from the CBC's Robert Zimmerman

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