Every doctor and nurse should be getting a flu shot to protect themselves and the public from the virus, the president of the Lambton County Medical Society says.
Dr. Kunwar Singh was responding to a recent report that found nearly half the employees at Bluewater Health haven’t been vaccinated for influenza this winter.
“It’s very good prevention and beneficial to people and the population,” Singh said.
Just 52% of doctors, nurses and other employees at Bluewater Health reported getting a flu shot so far this season, a sharp drop from the 81% immunized by mid-March last year, said Barb O’Neil, the hospital’s chief nursing executive.
The statistics are staff self-reported so the protection rate may be higher, O’Neil said.
Flu shots are offered at clinics inside the hospital, as well as from family doctors, medical clinics and pharmacies.
“We hope that our staff would tell us, but there’s nothing that says they have to,” said O’Neil, who admitted she’d like to see the number higher.
“Our intention always is to protect patients and staff. It’s our belief the vaccine is the best protection against the flu.”
Singh said vaccines are a safe and reliable way to prevent infection, but as with everything there is always a small risk of complications.
The most common side effects from the flu vaccine are soreness in the arm or mild flu-like symptoms, an indication the immune system is reacting to the vaccine.
Yet people continue to express fear about safety, including a persistent belief that a preservative in the vaccine can cause autism, something the world’s leading disease prevention experts have debunked.
It’s estimated between 10% and 20% of the Canadian population becomes infected with influenza each year, with the highest rates among children aged 5 to 9 years, according to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Ontario requires immunization totals to be reported by Dec. 15 and health officials continue to encourage shots after that date. As a result, the coverage rate might be higher, said Erin Courtney, health protection supervisor at Lambton Public Health.
Flu shots can prevent illness in 70% to 90% of healthy adults and children, the health unit says.
But last year the vaccine didn’t match the circulating strain and knowledge of that mismatch might have influenced some people considering a flu shot this winter, Courtney said.
The shot is “still the best protection,” she said.