B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer believes flu shots should be mandatory for all health care workers in the province, where fewer than half of employees in hospitals got the vaccinations last year.

Dr. Perry Kendall says flu shots are critical in preventing a widespread outbreak and immunizing health care workers is crucial to that effort.

"Health care workers are basically looking after vulnerable people," Kendall said Friday. "Those in hospital are much more vulnerable than the general population."

Figures obtained from B.C. health authorities show that within:

  • The Fraser Health Authority, 30 per cent of hospital employees got a flu shot; as did 58 per cent of residential care workers.
  • The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, 47 per cent of employees in the hospital got a flu shot; 61 per cent of residential care workers.
  • The Vancouver Island Health Authority, 38 percent of all health care workers.
  • The Northern Health Authority, 43 percent of all employees.

There are a number of reasons why would a health care worker avoid the flu shot, according to Margaret Dhillon, of the B.C. Nurses Union.

"They feel they've had a bad reaction, despite the education that shows that's not related," said Dhillon. "[Also] people … just don’t want to introduce something else in their bodies when they are exposed to many other things at work."

Personal choice

Dhillon said the union urges its members to get their annual shot, but says it's a personal choice.

Making vaccinations available right in employees’ wards would help, rather than making them go to a central clinic, said Dhillon.

She said that making flu shots mandatory would be an issue that would have to be negotiated as part of a union contract.

Kendall said something needs to be done.

"This is one area where experts and ethicists have called for consideration of maybe taking away the choice," he said.

About one-quarter of the general population in B.C. get the annual flu shot.

With files from the CBC's Theresa Lalonde