Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Why you should ask health providers if they've had their flu shot yet

With just 40 per cent of health providers opting for the shot, the question might be the best way to protect more people from the dreaded flu.

Only about 40% of health-care providers in N.S. get the flu shot, says Mary Jane Hampton

About 36 per cent of Nova Scotians get immunized against the flu each year. (Robert Short/CBC)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Have you had your flu shot yet?

That question might be the best way to protect more Nova Scotians from the dreaded flu, according to health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton.

The number of people in the province who get immunized each year is "still really low" at about 36 per cent, she said. 

"And you have to ask the question why? I mean it's so easy to get," she told CBC's Information Morning. "You can get a flu shot from a clinic, from a public health office, from any pharmacy. It's free."

What really concerns Hampton is that she said only about 40 per cent of Nova Scotia's health-care providers get the vaccine at flu season.

She added that the uptake is slightly higher at the IWK Health Centre, where it's 58 per cent.

"You have to wonder if the rate within the health-provider community is so low, it's probably no surprise that the rate in the broader community is so low," Hampton said. 

Health consultant Mary Jane Hampton says getting the flu shot is a matter of public safety. (Robert Short/CBC)

She thinks the best way to get more people immunized is to ask about it. 

"It is always safe to be on that moral high ground, so go and get your own flu shot first," she said. "But in the culture of patient safety, it is a perfectly reasonable question for you to ask your health provider if they've had the flu shot."

If the provider replies that they haven't had the shot, a patient who is at a high risk of getting sick might decide to seek out a different provider, said Hampton. 

While the provider's privacy is important, she said so is a patient's right to know.

Had your flu shot yet? On this week's Healthcare Hack, May Jane Hampton suggests asking the question to more than just our family and friends. 7:27
 

Hampton said just 14 per cent of pregnant women in Nova Scotia get the flu shot. But the good news is that 90 cent of people in long-term care are getting the shot.

"There continues to be, I think, everything from a false narrative around the value of the flu shot or the safety of the flu shot. There are people who are just phobic of needles," she said. 

A public safety issue

Nova Scotia will receive 461,000 doses of the flu vaccine this year, an increase of nearly 31,000 over last year, according to the province's Department of Health and Wellness.

The supply arrives over a four-week period. Nova Scotia currently has about 88 per cent of its supply with the remainder expected by the end of the week, spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said in an email.

"Providers may not have their full supply to start the program, but there will be ample vaccine and lots of opportunity for people to get their flu shot before the holidays when the flu season begins," she wrote. "We encourage all Nova Scotians to get the flu shot."

Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, told CBC Cape Breton's Mainstreet last week that he's not expecting anything out of the ordinary with this year's flu season, which officially began in mid-October. 

"We never know until it's actually here, but in Nova Scotia, we typically get flu shortly after Christmas and then we have six to eight weeks of peak flu activity," he said. 

Hampton said it's important for people to get the flu shot — not just so they stay healthy, but so the province's most vulnerable are protected too. 

"We know there is all the evidence of how this is such a simple and effective public health safety measure, and I think if we talk of it in the context of safety rather than anything less, then it really does up the game," she said. 

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With files from CBC's Information Morning

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