Health workers who don't get the flu shot must now wear masks in patient care areas.

A quarter of Fraser Health workers refuse flu vaccine

Health employees who didn't get flu shot must now wear mask around patients

About a quarter of Fraser Health’s full-time employees had not yet received the flu shot ahead of a Dec. 1 vaccination deadline and are now expected to wear masks in patient care areas of hospitals, long-term care homes and other health facilities.

The health authority’s flu vaccination rate of 75 per cent as of Monday for full-timers will likely continue to improve as more health care workers get the shot in the weeks ahead, according to interim chief medical health officer Dr. Victoria Lee.

Counting all staff – part-timers as well – the vaccination rate was 70 per cent, slightly better than 69 per cent at this point a year ago.

“It’s very important we protect our patients from influenza and this is the best way to protect the most vulnerable,” Lee said.

The provincial policy to get a flu shot or wear a mask has been criticized by the B.C. Nurses Union, which lost a grievance over the order last year.

Union officials say they remain opposed to it being mandatory and say a requirement that a nurse wear a mask could alarm certain anxious patients and create risky situations.

Visitors to Fraser Health facilities must also wear masks if they’re not vaccinated.

The staff vaccination rate in the Vancouver Coastal health region was 62 per cent as of Monday.

This year’s flu shot is not expected to be as effective as usual against the dominant influenza virus circulating this winter, but public health officials still urge people – especially the elderly and other vulnerable groups – to get vaccinated so they have as much protection as possible.

An estimated 3,500 Canadians die each year from flu complications – mainly seniors and others with underlying conditions.