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Flu edict for health-care workers will not be enforced

Health-care workers are still being asked to get the influenza vaccine or wear a mask — but health authorities "will not be disciplining employees" for failing to do so, according to the Ministry of Health.

"Health authorities will be taking a balanced and measured approach in the first year of this policy and will not be disciplining employees, but instead will focus on education and awareness to secure compliance with the policy," states the Ministry in a news release. "This balanced and measured approach ensures that the Province and health authorities will continue to work with labour groups to address concerns they may have in this transitional first year of implementation."

The Ministry announced the change in policy at the end of August, which makes getting the influenza vaccine or wearing a mask mandatory for B.C. health care workers. The policy is now in effect and applies to health-authority staff, physicians and residents, volunteers, students, contractors and vendors who come into contact with patients.

The B.C. Nurses' Union issued a news release Friday welcoming the focus on education for this year.

"We have always encouraged our members to get a flu shot because it is the best preventative measure available. However, we consider the decision on whether or not to get a shot a personal one," said Debra McPherson, B.C. Nurses' Union president, adding evidence around the effectiveness of the shot is conflicting. "We were very much opposed to policies aimed at forcing workers to get it."

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St. Joseph's General Hospital president and CEO Jane Murphy said St. Joseph's says the number of staff vaccinated against influenza has risen this year.

According to Murphy, 57 per cent of all hospital staff, including the Views, were immunized against influenza during last year's flu season. About 68 per cent of all staff have been immunized and she expects that number to rise further as clinics at the hospital will be ongoing throughout the rest of the flu season.

"This is the first year of this policy and we have seen increases of the staff getting immunized, which is very positive, but with any new policy we want to take the time and give people an opportunity to really understand the rationale behind the policy and work with our staff in moving through this," said Murphy, adding staff who do not get their shot will be asked to wear a mask.

"The approach we're going to take if that's not happening is one of education, to speak to staff and explain to them the purpose of it as far as keeping our residents and patients safe as well as themselves and the importance of wearing a mask if they have chosen not to get the immunization."

She also reminds patient visitors to refrain from visiting their loved ones if they aren't feeling well.

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