Dear Mr. Rothenburger
As a public health nurse and representative of more than 48,000 nurses across this province, I felt very much inclined to respond to your opinion piece, “Arguments against mandatory flu shots for nurses are weak.” (Monday, Dec. 9, 2019)
I’d like to start by informing you that a large majority of our nurses get the flu vaccination every year, without hesitation, and we are confident that the amendment to the Influenza Prevention Policy will not change that. BCNU firmly believes that vaccination is an effective way of protecting patients and health care workers and we will continue to encourage nurses and the general public to choose vaccination as a way of preventing flu transmission, in addition to other prevention measures such as frequent hand washing.
The amendment to the flu policy isn’t about changing that message – nor does it encourage any nurse to “do what they like.” What it does do, is remove the punitive aspect of the previous policy where nurses who didn’t abide by the “vaccinate or mask” policy for personal reasons were sometimes disciplined as a result. As per the policy, health care staff and physicians will still be expected to either be immunized or wear a mask as appropriate in patient-care areas. Reporting of immunization status remains mandatory.
I have spent years as a public health nurse promoting the flu vaccine and educating people about the various ways they can prevent flu transmission. The amended flu policy will continue to do just that – but it will also respect a nurses’ professional judgment – something that has been long overdue. There are many health care workers who don’t face possible termination for making educated decisions about their own bodies.
In your piece, you state that you would rather be cared for by nurses that won’t give you the flu. I’d like to remind you, Mr. Rothenburger, that nurses are dedicated to providing safe patient care, every single day. They are professional, educated and committed individuals and I find it very disrespectful that you would suggest that a nurse would not put your best interests first, if you were their patient.
I would like to end by adding that this new approach is consistent with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and through collaborative efforts between BCNU, the Health Employers Association of BC and the Ministry of Health, successful implementation and adherence to the policy will rely on cooperation, professionalism and education to help us achieve our shared goals of reducing influenza-related deaths and illnesses.
President, BC Nurses’ Union