NURSES who work at Lions Gate Hospital and other health care facilities on the North Shore are protesting a decision that makes flu shots mandatory unless they wear a mask.
Nurses and care aides say the province's medical health officer is unfairly singling them out.
"Nurses are not the only ones who get the flu," said Kath-Ann Terrett, head of the coast mountain region for the B.C. Nurses Union.
Doctors aren't required to get the shot or wear a mask, she said. Neither are members of the public visiting the hospital.
This summer, the province's health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, announced a policy requiring health care workers get a flu shot or wear surgical masks during flu season.
But Terrett said many health care workers - herself included - are protesting the policy by refusing to the wear the mandatory stickers on their nametags, stating that they've had the shot.
"Personally, I get (a flu shot) every year," she said. "But that's my choice. Not my employer's."
Terrett said many nurses already get flu shots.
But she said others - many of whom don't live on the North Shore - have found the times flu shots are scheduled don't coincide with their shifts.
Others reasons nurses and care aides may not want to get a shot include being pregnant or having allergies to egg-based ingredients used in the vaccine, said Terrett.
Some others also question the reliability of the research supporting the flu vaccine and preservatives used in them, she said.
Health officials concede the vaccines do not always prevent the flu.
But "They're the best tool we've got," said Dr. Brian O'Connor, the chief medical health officer for the North Shore. He thinks health care workers have a "duty of care" to their patients to get the flu vaccine.
"What we're saying is it's an ethical responsibility not to compromise the people you're caring for," said O'Connor, who compared getting the flu shot to surgeons making sure they're scrubbed and gowned before entering the operating room.
"You don't want to be a source of potential harm to the patients you're caring for."
O'Connor said only about 40 to 45 per cent of health care workers on the North Shore get the flu vaccine, not counting those who work in long-term care homes.
O'Connor said one reason for the policy is most people who get the flu are contagious and can spread the virus before they themselves have symptoms. "You can be working and infectious and you won't even know," he said.
But Terrett said other policies in the health care system aimed at cutting down absenteeism actually encourage health care workers to show up, even when they are sick. People who use more than a certain number of sick days in a year often have a disciplinary letter placed in their file, she said. "If you have the flu, you're sometimes out for two weeks."
Terrett said she thinks other measures, like improving cleanliness at the hospital and more sinks for hand washing would be just as effective at cutting down on the spread of the flu.