More than 1,000 Nova Scotia health care workers are expected to join the province’s nurse union today to call for a shortened fall flu vaccine campaign after the government only distributed about 20 percent of the shots it was supposed to offer during the first week of the season.
As of Tuesday, Nova Scotia’s public health department had distributed 64,498 flu vaccines against the strains of the flu that are expected to be common this winter, compared with the 145,356 doses it promised, the Halifax Chronicle Herald reported. Health Canada said fewer than 150 people a day applied for flu shots during the first week of the season, which started earlier than usual in October.
During a telephone news conference Thursday, health officials said they would no longer be able to reach “the schedule of days and times that the province has recommended” in order to meet the commitments it made to the provincial nurses union, the Chronicle Herald reported.
Despite the lukewarm response, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald told reporters that she’s “not disappointed” by the pace of vaccine distribution. MacDonald said the rate of vaccination among some residents of the province’s long-term care facilities was higher than expected. Nova Scotia had been on track to vaccinate at least 80 percent of the residents of its long-term care facilities.
As a result, MacDonald said, the province’s government has decided to extend the current public vaccination campaign by a week, until Sept. 10. A previous one ended Aug. 4. A request for an extension of another week, ending Sept. 17, will be made to the Nova Scotia Legislature later this month, MacDonald said.
Under the conditions of a negotiated contract last December, Nova Scotia must give the union health workers paid time off to schedule appointments with a flu vaccination specialist. About 70 percent of these specialists have already been paid, and health workers who have not yet received time off are expected to be notified this week, the Chronicle Herald reported.
As a result of her announcement Thursday, MacDonald received a bill from the Nova Scotia government for $0.34 per hour, or a total of $102,160, for 14 hours of sick leave she claimed last month. Health workers can claim sick leave on a 1:1 ratio, but MacDonald didn’t disclose to health officials the sick time she sought and paid, MacDonald’s spokeswoman said.
MacDonald, a radiologist, said in a statement Thursday that the point of her claim was to “allow everyone a full day to be well.” In the end, she gained 6.4 hours of sick leave, or 25 hours total, for which she was allowed to claim pay. The rest of the time, she said, came from covering shifts during past flu seasons.