As influenza season approaches, the debate revs up around the merits of rolling up your sleeve
By Todd Humber
I have a confession to make: I get the flu shot.
I’ve had it every year for about the last 10 years. In that time, I’ve never gotten the flu. Of course, in all the years I didn’t get the flu shot, I only got the flu once. But for me, once was enough.
In some circles, getting the flu shot feels like a dirty little secret — you almost have to apologize, or at least defend your rationale, for rolling up your sleeves.
The debate ranges from the rational (it’s ineffective), to the controversial (it’s linked to autism, a theory which has been widely debunked) to the extreme (it’s a government mind-control conspiracy.)
Last month, British Columbia announced that flu shots would be mandatory for health-care workers in that province.
About 50 per cent of health-workers in B.C. get the flu shot every year, a figure the government would like to see closer to 85 per cent. Those refusing to get a flu shot would be required to wear masks.
This week, Ontario’s public health agency jumped on B.C.’s bandwagon, saying it thinks the flu shot should be mandatory for all health-care workers in the province. The average vaccination rate for Ontario’s health-care workers is below 60 per cent.
The Ontario government isn’t taking the bait, as Health Minister Deb Matthews told the Toronto Star that mandatory immunizations aren’t on the table but “we are, however, targeting frontline health-care workers to increase vaccination rates.”
Ontario tried to go down that road before, mandating that paramedics receive the flu shots. It later abandoned that policy in the face of union challenges.
The flu shot is easy to get. Many employers offer free, on-site clinics to employees. Ontario just announced it will allow pharmacists to start administering flu shots, something already happening in B.C.
But despite those efforts, immunization rates remain low. In 2010, 41 per cent of the Canadian population over the age of 12 received the flu shot, according to Statistics Canada. Of the six in 10 who elected not to receive it, here’s the rationale:
•74 per cent said they “didn’t think it was necessary”
•13 per cent said they “had not gotten around to it yet”
•seven per cent cited fear, but the nature of the fear was not specified.
I will get my flu shot again this year. I know it’s a guessing game when it comes to which strain will strike this season. I know there’s no guarantee that getting the flu shot will prevent me from getting sick. But, in my mind, the benefits of getting the flu shot outweigh the risks.
What do you think? Are you getting the flu shot this year? If so, why? If not, what’s your concern? Comment in the box below.
Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.