Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre says forcing health-care workers to get flu shots is the wrong approach.

Sudbury's hospital has told its employees they must either get the vaccine or wear a mask, but officials at Thunder Bay Regional say that's going too far. 

Public Health Ontario recommends hospital workers get flu shots or take precautions — like wearing surgical masks — if there's a medical reason they can't be vaccinated.

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Dr. Doug Sider, medical director, Communicable disease prevention and control, Public Health Ontario. (Public Health Ontario)

"As a health care worker, you need to recognize how actions, decisions that you make can both protect you and increasingly protect people that you're providing care for," said Dr. Doug Sider, medical director, Communicable Disease Prevention and Control for Public Health Ontario

Vaccination through education

Thunder Bay Regional's medical director of infection control agreed staff should get flu shots.

But Dr. Greg Gamble disagreed with making employees wear a mask — or sending them home if they don't.

"I think that's a little bit draconian," he said.

Instead, the hospital's occupational health team encourages flu vaccination using education and by making it easy to get the shot, Gamble noted.

"They actually go to the wards to get folks who haven't been vaccinated," he said.

"They're always done in the cafeteria during the peak promotion season."

'Harsh approach'

Gamble said he doubts Sudbury's hard-line approach will result in more employee vaccinations — and expects many won't wear a mask.

"I guess one of the things you have to do is take it in context. I mean, if you're dealing with [an] outbreak of influenza within your institution, then I think that those sorts of measures make sense," Gamble said.

"But when you're dealing with the hospital, in general, where you don't have an outbreak within the institution, then I think that would be a very, very harsh approach.  I think you'd probably win more people over with carrots rather than a stick-type policy."

Sider said in other jurisdictions — including British Columbia and parts of the United States — getting the flu shot is a mandatory condition of employment for health-care workers in hospitals.

Public Health Ontario's position is that employees should get flu shots unless they're medically unable to, he added, but emphasized that, at this point, this is a recommendation only, not a directive.

Thunder Bay Regional says about 1,000 employees have been vaccinated this flu season, which is between 40 and 50 per cent of staff. 

The hospital said that's up from about 30 per cent in past years.