The mandatory “immunize or mask” policy raised hackles when it was implemented in 2014 for health care in Saskatchewan, but this year it’s being temporarily switched to voluntary.
The policy requires that health care workers and visitors alike who have not gotten an influenza immunization, for whatever reason, have to wear a mask while in places where health care services are offered.
A short time ago, a decision came down in Ontario striking down a similar policy. The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses then sent a letter to the Ministry of Health and regional health authorities asking whether it will impact policies in Saskatchewan.
Dr. David Torr is the chair of the Medical Health Officers Council of Saskatchewan. He said they still support the policy.
“We still believe very much that that is an important additional infection control measure, and there is no dispute that the immunization, certainly, is the best defense we still have against influenza, but failing on that we have to try other infection control measures, and masking was seen as one of those measure.”
Torr said they’re reviewing all the information that came out of the Ontario decision, as well as another in B.C. which upheld a similar policy. He said they want to see if there’s anything that’s changed as far as evidence and suggestions or recommendations, and to see if adjustments to Saskatchewan’s policy needs to be adjusted.
Torr said they were surprised by the Ontario decision.
“In Saskatchewan our main objective has been looking at patient safety and also staff safety. In Ontario it seems it was a different approach, looking at measures that are put in place to protect patients and staff as being punitive.”
Before the policy was implemented in Saskatchewan, the health minister lamented a 50 per cent immunization rate among health workers. Torr said last year, when the policy was mandatory, the immunization rate among health workers was about 80 per cent.
Torr said they are still asking people to mask if they haven’t gotten a flu shot.
“We will see how much the duty of care, and how much healthcare providers put importance to the influenza so it will interesting to see the outcome. But certainly our hope is that our health care workers are very responsible and they do take care and the duty of care to the patients and clients they’re attending to seriously.”
The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses said always encourages nurses to get the flu shot, but respects individuals’ choice.
In an email, the union’s president, Tracy Zambori, wrote: “SUN fully supports an evidence-based approach to policy development and we are committed to working with government and the health regions to achieve policies and procedures that will protect patients while acknowledging the diversity of our membership. In the interim, we continue to advise all members to abide by the policies of their respective employers.”