Only 40 to 60 per cent of the Yukon’s health workers get vaccinated for the seasonal flu, said the territory’s chief medical officer.
“We haven’t always had good numbers in terms of getting health workers vaccinated,” said Dr. Brendan Hanley.
Nurses, doctors and hospital staff are reluctant to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons, he said.
“It comes down to misconceptions amongst the public.”
The resistance is especially worrisome in light of the coming H1N1 flu season, which may overlap and intensify the expected seasonal flu wave.
The territory’s weakest link may be in the communities, where short-staffed health clinics may be forced to call in replacements if workers are sick in bed.
“There are contingency plans for surge-capacity planning,” said Hanley.
But the communities remain “very vulnerable,” especially when it comes to acute services like home care, he said.
The number of health-worker vaccinations varies from year to year, and from sector to sector.
“One hospital unit could have 90 per cent (vaccinated) and another could have 40 per cent,” said Hanley.
Because health units – from senior homes to hospital wards to clinics – are relatively tiny in the Yukon, one dissenting worker can cause a whole unit to turn against vaccination, he said.
“It really depends on leadership and personalities,” said Hanley.
Many workers resist the vaccine because it failed to protect them from the flu in the past or because they never get sick, he said.
And sometimes, people just don’t like being told what to do.
“Some see it as coming from above,” he said. “There’s a natural tendency to resist it.”
Whitehorse General Hospital is encouraging its workers to get vaccinated with door prizes, said spokesperson Val Pike.
Hospital staff get hand sanitizer and a chance to win “emergency preparedness-related prizes,” she said. Wind-up flashlights and radios are now up for grabs.
“We do our best trying to get everyone to get (vaccinated,)” she said.
Pike didn’t have any statistics on how many of the hospital’s 350-person staff get vaccinated. But according to Hanley, the hospital usually has around a 60-per-cent uptake in vaccinations.
The Yukon’s long-term care facilities also face the threat of low vaccination numbers, he said.
“It is a concern,” he said. “We definitely don’t usually do well historically.”
The figure for long-term care facility staff, like Whitehorse’s Macaulay Lodge and Dawson’s McDonald Lodge, are “fair to moderate.”
“We’re looking at rates of 40 to 60 per cent depending on the year,” said Hanley.
Health workers are being asked to take two sets of vaccinations, one for seasonal flu and another for H1N1.
The Yukon already has stockpiles of seasonal flu vaccine but the H1N1 vaccine is currently undergoing federal test trials.
Shipments of the H1N1 vaccine should arrive in late October or early November.
Contact James Munson at email@example.com.