01/10/2014 02:02 EST | Updated 03/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Mandatory Flu Shots Eyed For Alberta Health-Care Workers

Registered nurse Charlene Luxcin administers a flu shot to a patient at the Whittier Street Health Center in Boston, Mass., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Boston declared a public health emergency Wednesday as the city tried to deal with a harsh flu season and the state reported 18 flu-related deaths so far. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Alberta government could soon force health-care workers to get the flu vaccine after new numbers suggest less than half the health workers in the Calgary area got the shot this year.

With vaccination rates at 45 per cent — and at some hospitals, it's less than 20 per cent — both health-care officials and patients say they are worried about what the trend could mean for those coming into contact with health-care workers.

 "We would like to see an 80 per cent immunization level, and in particular for those who come in direct contact with patients," said  Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

"I was shocked to find my family doctor didn't get it," said Calgary resident Michael Walters. "I always get my flu shot."

In British Columbia, it's mandatory for health workers to get vaccinated or else wear a mask while caring for patients during flu seasons.

Many US. institutions also have similar requirements in place.

Some workers may be opposed to flu shots

It's not clear why vaccination numbers are so low among health-care workers, but Dr. Talbot says it could be because they feel invincible — or are against vaccinations.

"I think some maybe, in a sense of denial, feel like they're going to make it through the flu season without getting influenza," said Talbot. "I wouldn't be surprised to find that a small number of them are actually opposed to immunization, as is the general population."

For those with first-hand experience of pandemics, such as SARS, the choice to get vaccinated is not a difficult one.

"For me because I always get it every year, and the second thing is I come from China," said Calgary's Dr. Dan Chen.

"We do see SARS causing huge trouble in the whole country."

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