Vancouver, BC – As of today all visitors to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) facilities are being asked to wear a surgical mask if they haven’t received their annual flu shot. The policy is part of the province’s strategy to prevent the spread of flu and protect already vulnerable patients from a potentially fatal infection.
“The flu can be devastating for our patients because many have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to serious illness,” says VCH’s Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dawar. “The best way to protect your loved ones in hospital is to get a flu shot, even if you’re normally a healthy individual. The shot will not only protect you from getting the flu, but also the people around you.”
The policy is applicable to all patient care areas in VCH hospitals, residential care homes and other health facilities between December 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017. Flu shots for visitors are free and can be obtained at your family doctor, VCH flu clinics, walk-in clinics or pharmacies. People who haven’t had a flu shot can obtain a mask at a nursing station or outpatient reception desk. Doctors, staff, students and volunteers are also required to get immunized or wear a mask while at work during the flu season.
Flu shots are free in B.C. for all children from six months to five years of age, people 65 years and older, Aboriginal people, those with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems, and for anyone who lives or works with a person who is at higher risk of problems from the flu.
The shot is also free for pregnant women and, when given during pregnancy, it’s been shown to protect both the mother and her developing baby from serious flu-related complications. Pregnant women are more prone to developing severe illness from flu— which can lead to hospitalization or even death—due to changes in the heart, lungs and immune system during pregnancy. A pregnant woman who gets the flu also has a greater chance that her baby will suffer premature labor and delivery.
“Anecdotally we aren’t seeing as many pregnant women getting vaccinated. That’s a shame because pregnant women and infants are at a higher risk for complications and hospitalization from flu,” says Dr. Meena Dawar, medical health officer. “If women are vaccinated during pregnancy, the baby is born with some flu antibodies that will help protect them from flu for up to six months after birth. This is important because babies younger than six months can't get vaccinated yet, but they are at high risk of being hospitalized from the flu.”
“It was a no-brainer for me to get the flu shot,” says Amy Leung, a Richmond resident in her third trimester of pregnancy. “I don’t want to get sick, but just as important, I don’t want my unborn son to get sick either. Newborn babies are so fragile and susceptible to picking up infections. This is something I can do now to protect him once he’s born.”
An additional way to protect baby after birth is for all of the baby's caregivers and close contacts (including siblings, grandparents and babysitters) to also be immunized.
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.4 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Tiffany Akins, Communications Leader
Vancouver Coastal Health