Unvaccinated visitors to Vancouver Coastal Health facilities urged to wear flu masks

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      People who visit loved ones in hospitals are used to seeing hand-washing dispensers near entrances.

      But now, they're also being encouraged to wear a mask in Vancouver Coastal Health facilities if they haven't been vaccinated for the flu.

      According to a health authority news release, around 3,500 people die from the flu or its complications every year in Canada.

      “The flu can be devastating for our patients because many have chronic health problems including weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to serious illness,” VCH medical health officer Dr. Meena Dawar said. “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 masks are available at nursing stations and outpatient reception desks.

      Flu season typically continues until March. The most vulnerable are hospital patients and seniors.

      The flu vaccine is free and can be taken at pharmacies, walk-in clinics, and family physician offices.

      Last week, the B.C. Nurses' Union announced that it had reached an agreement with the Health Employers' Association of B.C. to allow nurses to use their own professional judgement about whether to be vaccinated.

      In the past, nurses were forced to either be vaccinated or wear flu masks.

      The union argues that these masks could confuse some patients with mental-health disorders and make it more difficult for nurses to communicate with the hearing-impaired.