THURSDAY MORNING EDITORIAL — Health Minister Terry Lake and provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall had a message Wednesday that went beyond an announcement about a record 1.4 million doses of flu vaccine having been distributed since last November.
Lake complimented health care workers for either getting flu shots or wearing masks while working in patient-care areas. Of course, that policy remains controversial, and one health care worker lost employment for refusing both options.
The broader point from both of them seemed to be that getting a flu shot beats not getting one. “I want to remind British Columbians that getting vaccinated early is the best way to protect yourself, and others, from complications from influenza,” said Kendall.
Still, some people worry about them. Concerns about flu shots aren’t as prevalent as some other vaccinations but they’re there, ranging from moderate on up. For example, a common suspicion — some would say myth — is that getting an influenza vaccination can make you sick.
Another belief held by some is that flu shots can cause miscarriages. That they contain toxic ingredients. That they can cause dementia or weaken the immune system.
Here’s an example from a website called bewellbuzz.com published in 2011, titled 10 Reasons Why Flu Shots Are More Dangerous Than a Flu!: “Medical journals have published thousands of articles revealing that injecting vaccines can actually lead to serious health problems including harmful immunological responses and a host of other infections.”
It goes on to say flu vaccines contain mercury at a “much higher” level than the “maximum allowable daily exposure limit.”
The same article was published again on undergroundhealth.com last September. It’s easy to find other, similar articles just as it’s easy to find ones that defend flu vaccinations, such as the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention or Setting the Record Straight: Debunking all the Flu Vaccine Myths on a website called gizmodo.com.
No medical opinions will be offered about flu shots by this editorial — suffice it to say opinion is divided.
Efforts to increase the level of immunization for health-care workers aren’t unique to B.C., although policies differ on how to go about it, ranging from encouragement to enforcement or leaving it up to individual hospitals to decide.
Health care unions don’t like mandatory shots because they consider them an infringement on the human rights of their members. An Ontario Nurses Union rep stated a few weeks ago: “The current immunization is, at best 70 per cent effective… Let’s have an adult conversation about how to protect patients instead of implementing these draconian measures that aren’t backed up by science.”
The evidence seems pretty solid that simple encouragement doesn’t go very far in raising the level of vaccinations by health-care workers. So if a jurisdiction believes flu vaccines are a good tool, and that influenza is a serious health risk, mandatory vaccinations for health care workers are the fastest way to increase uptake.
B.C.’s policy is a compromise and not a bad one. If the mask option is an infringement of human rights, it’s a mild imposition.
The flu isn’t just some everyday bug that we should all expect to put up with for a week or two every winter. Some people die from it; the health risks involved in getting the flu are greater than most of us probably understand.
Some might fault Lake and Kendall for not elaborating on the issues surrounding the wisdom of flu vaccinations but those disagreements seem destined to continue regardless.