Dr. Donna Chizen got her flu immunization the first day of clinics in Saskatoon Health Region. Chizen is an obstetrician/gynaecologist with a special interest in menopause. “It was convenient, I got it done.” But it was more than convenience that drove Chizen. “My office is around the corner from the pregnancy suite. Pregnant women are a population at risk,” she says. And she has personal reasons for receiving the vaccine. “I have an elderly parent. She’s 91. I visit the building she lives in and I’m in constant contact with the elderly.”

Dr. Donna Chizen got her flu shot as soon as staff clinics opened this year.

Dr. Donna Chizen got her flu shot as soon as staff clinics opened this year.

Chizen is not alone. However statistics show that only half of all health-care workers in the province actually take advantage of free influenza vaccination. As a result, provincial health system partners have issued a position statement on the issue of immunization. The statement, signed by Health Minister Dustin Duncan, health region CEOs, the Saskatchewan Medical Association and the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association underscores the importance of health-care providers taking action to protect patients and themselves from the potentially significant effects of influenza. The statement says, in part, “We expect non-immunized health-care workers, including physicians, to choose to wear a procedure mask at all times while they are in patient care areas during the entire influenza season to ensure that our patients and staff are protected.”

The position statement on influenza immunization for staff.

The position statement on influenza immunization for staff.

Shelly McFadden, Saskatoon Health Region’s director of Worksafe and Employee Wellness, supports the statement. “We know that in order to put patients, clients and residents first, we must do whatever is within our power to protect them from illness. One significant step we can take is to get ourselves immunized against influenza so we don’t spread illness to others.” McFadden adds that the need for health-care workers to be healthy is heightened in times of influenza outbreaks. “When we have outbreaks in our hospitals and care homes, we need to be protected so we can care for our patients and residents. If we’re sick, we can’t be of service to the people who rely on us for care, including friends and family. We can contract illness from those individuals too. An influenza immunization reduces the chances of that spread significantly.”

At the same time, McFadden is pleased to see the numbers of staff immunized already higher than last year. As of this week, almost one thousand more staff, volunteers and physicians were immunized in Saskatoon Health Region compared to the same time last year. The Region’s goal is to have at least 80 per cent of point-of-care staff immunized as soon as possible. As of November 12, 47.5 per cent were immunized.

Last year, Saskatchewan recorded 51 influenza outbreaks. Research shows more than 20 per cent of health-care workers, including physicians, contract influenza each year.

Dr. Chizen doesn’t want to be one those who falls ill. She knows the serious consequences of contracting influenza. “I believe in herd health principles, which is that if we immunize the majority of our population, we will decrease the chance that some unsuspecting soul is going to develop a nasty illness.”

Staff influenza immunization is available at all occupational health and safety offices and through public health offices throughout the Region.