Every year, an estimated 12,200 people are hospitalized across Canada with influenza. It causes more deaths than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined in a single year.
So it might surprise you to find out that less than 60 per cent of health care providers in the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) have gotten a flu shot this season.
Every fall, the public is advised to get one because simply put – the vaccine can save lives – but is that messaging falling on deaf ears when it comes to health care workers?
In the past, immunization rates among SHR employees has ranged from as low as 30 per cent to as high as 70.
“To date, it’s about 57 per cent this year,” Dr. Cory Neudorf, chief medical health officer for SHR, said.
That percentage is a bit misleading though explained Neudorf. Health care employees can now receive a flu shot through a pharmacist, immunizations aren’t tracked through any other method than self-reporting.
Therefore, coverage maybe higher than 57 per cent and, according to Neudorf, the region is doing much better than many parts of the country where as few as 35 to 40 per cent of employees receive the flu shot.
“I do think we should be modelling the way and there should be a higher portion of health care workers getting their flu shots unless there’s a medical reason why not.”
A flu shot not only for themselves, their families but primarily to protect their patients.
In Saskatoon, there have been 388 confirmed cases of influenza this flu season. Province-wide there have been 941 cases, 10 ICU admissions and one death.
“We had one year where we had a lot higher coverage where we had the immunize or mask policy in place where we got to 95 coverage in this region which was among the highest in Canada at that point,” Neudorf said.
In 2014, the province introduced a policy requiring employees to get a shot or wear a mask but did away with it after one flu season. Why? There were questions raised about the effectiveness of the surgical masks.
“Intuitively it makes sense that wearing a mask is going to protect spread that’s why we wear masks in a lot of infection control situations but their research evidence isn’t there to show how effective and in what situations,” Neudorf said.
“Until that can be demonstrated, the perception can be or it could be used as a coercive tool instead.”
Just how quickly a similar policy could be put in place like the one three years ago depends on how fast the research evidence comes together and according to Neudorf, it could take years.
“It depends on how good of a quality of evidence you need before you can make that decision and what’s the trade off – how much harm is being done to patients.”
Until there is more conclusive evidence, the flu shot for health care providers in Saskatchewan will remain voluntary.