To prick or not to prick, that is the question

Image via Flickr.
Image via Flickr.

Employees must wash hands.

Workers must wear protective gear.

Health-care workers… well, if you don’t feel like getting your flu shot, don’t sweat it.

One of these things is not like the other. Any professional who works in any field has a set of social rules. These rules can be for the well-being of the workers themselves or, in some cases, for those benefiting from their services. If you found out that the guy who put your burger together hadn’t washed his hands before handling your food, I don’t think it would look nearly as appetizing as it did before.

If we demand these rules of professionalism from those who handle our food, then why shouldn’t we demand the same from those who we trust with our health? An estimated 55 to 65 per cent of health-care workers don’t get their seasonal flu vaccinations; so there’s a good chance that next time you go get your vaccine, the person administering it isn’t protected.

Since the fear of a widespread pandemic has been hanging over our heads for the past few years, doctors have been telling us to wash our hands, avoid touching our faces, cough or sneeze into our elbow… the list goes on and on. And on that list is the advice to go get our annual shots.

The influenza virus can be deadly. For young adults our immune systems are strong enough to fight it off without really taking the spring out of our step. Sure, it isn’t fun, but it usually isn’t a death sentence. It is for the elderly, the very young and the sick that the flu can be problematic. Coincidentally, these are usually the people who come into contact most frequently with health-care workers. So if the people who are supposed to help protect your health are unintentionally harming it, steps should be taken to prevent that.

Just because someone doesn’t display the symptoms of the flu doesn’t mean that they can’t pass it on if they’re infected. According to the Center for Disease Control, you can become contagious up to a day before showing symptoms. In normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be a big deal. However, to people who are already working in an environment where the patients have a low immune system or are recovering from some other illness or surgery, the flu is the last thing that they need.

If the flu shot is as effective as doctors are trying to make us believe, then it stands to reason that they should be the first to get it; and if it isn’t as effective as they want us to believe, then they should still get it to lower the chances of contaminating others.

According to the Canadian Lung Organization, up to 8,000 Canadians die of the flu every year. For a virus regarded as ‘seasonal’, that’s a pretty high death toll.

Influenza is dangerous. It can kill. If by taking cautionary measures we can lower the death toll, even by just 100, then it would be 100 less families grieving. If this means that health-care workers have to get vaccinated as well, then so be it. Although I do not endorse that doctors and nurses who refuse to be pricked be banned from hospitals or forcefully injected, at least get them to wear masks at all times. As much as health workers have the right to decide what they do with their bodies, patients deserve to be treated in a safe, flu-free environment.


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