VICTORIA - British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, has officially lifted the Influenza Protection Policy for the 2014-15 influenza season, meaning that health-care workers and visitors to health-care facilities are no longer required to wear a mask if they are not vaccinated against influenza.
“I’d like to thank all the health care workers, volunteers, students and members of the public for their support over this past flu season,” said Dr. Kendall. “This year, we again surpassed the total percentage of staff who were vaccinated, ensuring that our vulnerable patients and seniors were protected as much as possible against what can be a life-threatening illness.”
This season marked the second full year of the Influenza Protection Policy, which helps to prevent the spread of influenza in health care facilities and residential care homes, and includes requirements for staff and visitors to be vaccinated or wear a mask when in patient care areas, for the duration of flu season. The policy took effect as of Dec. 1, 2014, and will be lifted as of April 1, 2015.
To support this policy, the province fully covered the flu vaccine for those individuals who were planning to visit patients or relatives in a health-care facility, as well as for all health-care workers, students or volunteers.
This year, 80% of health-care workers (between 73% and 84% throughout the province) reported that they were vaccinated. By the end of the 2013-14 influenza season, influenza immunization coverage for health care workers in acute care facilities was 76% in B.C., ranging from 69% to 81% between the five regional health authorities and Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA).
The flu vaccine is safe and when used in conjunction with other infection control practices, such as hand washing and remaining home when sick is your best protection against influenza.
Flu shots are offered for free in B.C. to high-risk groups including children, seniors, pregnant women, Aboriginal people, individuals with underlying medical conditions and chronic health conditions, and those who work with or come in close contact with higher-risk groups.
Under the policy, the influenza season is declared over when infection rates in the community show a consistent decline, and there are low levels circulating in the community - this is generally around the end of March, but can vary depending on the season.
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