UPDATED: 'Immunize-or-mask' policy coming to Saskatchewan

Nathan Liewicki
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Dr. Mark Vooght supports the notion that every person eligible to receive an influenza immunization should get one.

Dr. Mark Vooght fully supoorts the Ministry of Health's "immunize-or-mask" policy, which all provincial health-care workers must abide by beginning in fall 2014. 

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health announced the “immunize-or-mask” ultimatum following the recommendation of Saskatchewan’s medical health officers and other leaders in the health system.

The chief medical officer of the Five Hills Health Region (FHHR), Dr. Vooght is one of those who supported the policy.

“I do support this policy and I support the No. 1 principal in it – that people should be immunized,” said Dr. Vooght.

Only about 50 per cent of provincial health-care workers, including physicians, voluntarily receive the annual flu shot. According to Stuart Cunningham, vice-president of human resources with the FHHR, that number is slightly higher – 55 per cent – in Five Hills.

Cunningham does not expect there to be much resistance among health workers in the FHHR from receiving the vaccine when the policy goes into effect in fall 2014.

“We're very hopeful that staff will see the importance of being immunized, and if not … wear a mask – for their protection, but also for the safety of the patients,” he said.

“At the end of the day it will be a policy that we will be looking to enforce, but it will initially be based on the honours system.”

Influenza can pose a significant problem and has the potential to have devastating consequences for patients, especially those in long-term care facilities.

According to Dr. Vooght, there are studies that show a 40 per cent reduction in mortality among long-term care residents during flu season when all of the health-care workers have received the flu vaccine.

He also noted “up to 26 per cent of unvaccinated health-care workers can be infected annually with influenza.”

The policy has yet to be finalized, but Saskatchewan will join British Columbia as the only other province in Canada to introduce the immunize-or-mask policy.

In a news release, Health Minister Dustin Duncan said the immunize-or-mask policy is “the right thing to do” and that it will help “minimize the risk of illness in our health facilities.”

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks.

Organizations: Ministry of Health

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Canada

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