Flu shots no longer mandatory

Thanks to some hard work by HEU and other health care unions, the provincial government has directed health care facilities to change the coercive mandatory flu vaccination program this fall. And Victoria has called on employers to work with the union to develop a more cooperative approach based on education and voluntary compliance.

“The bottom line is that the vaccinations are no longer mandatory,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt. “And given that we agree with an education-based, voluntary program, we’re encouraging HEU members to make an informed choice through workplace vaccination programs,” says Allnutt, who rolled up his sleeve Oct. 31 for a flu shot at a special clinic at HEU Provincial Office.

The logjam-breaking letter from deputy health minister Leah Hollins to employer groups in mid-October says the ministry heard concerns expressed by the unions and felt that the voluntary approach based on education was the best route to take this flu season. And Hollins urged employers to “refrain, wherever possible, from sending non-immunized employees home without pay,” and to explore reassignment options.

Victoria has set an 80 per cent voluntary vaccination compliance level for this fall and winter, up from past rates which hovered in the 40 to 45 per cent range.

While the Hollins letter clarifies what labour relations responses will be taken in the event of an influenza outbreak, the provincial health officer and regional medical health officers have the power to order measures to be taken if there is deemed to be a flu outbreak at any health care facility. And to promote a cooperative approach at this level, HEU representatives met Oct. 20 with provincial health officer Perry Kendall.

Kendall agreed that a comprehensive flu shot education program is a positive approach. And the two parties discussed a protocol at the medical health officer level that would smooth the way for a voluntary program. HEU sought Kendall's support for a multi-faceted approach based on increased education of health care workers represented by the union. Further discussions with Kendall are expected.

HEABC CEO Gary Moser hasn't had his flu shot yet, his office says, but he's scheduled to get one soon.