More health-care workers got the flu vaccine this past season than ever before after controversial rules were aggressively enforced, prompting the firing of one worker who refused to comply.
Health Minister Terry Lake confirmed Wednesday the worker was terminated in December after declining to get a shot or wear a mask in patient-care areas.
Arnold Hoekstra, who worked as a nurse's aide at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Grand Forks, said he was let go after various disciplinary meetings with officials with the Interior Health Authority.
Mr. Hoekstra, 49, said he doesn't believe vaccines are medically viable.
"I refused anything to do with that policy because it wasn't based on the truth," he said an interview.
"We're introducing very harmful products, chemicals and neurotoxins and what have you, into our bodies which actually make us sicker and develop various diseases because of it."
Mr. Lake said 80 per cent of health-care workers in B.C. were vaccinated, a 10-per-cent increase from the previous flu season. The remaining health-care workers chose to wear masks.
"Some people have concerns about vaccines," Mr. Lake said, when asked why some health-care workers are not getting vaccinations.
"Our primary concern is the patient. So by being immunized you're protecting the patient, but also by wearing a mask we feel that that is efficacious in protecting the patient as well," Mr. Lake said.
He said the goal next year is to further increase the rate of vaccination among health-care workers beyond the 80 per cent.
A record number of vaccinations were given this season. Since Nov. 7, 2013, 1.4 million vaccine doses were distributed throughout the province, 70,000 more than the previous flu season.
The high vaccine rates were partly prompted by the re-emergence of the H1N1 strain of flu, which was declared a pandemic four years ago. News of its appearance again prompted a spike in vaccine demand, with nearly every province and territory scrambling to place late-season, extra orders for vaccines.
British Columbia first began requiring health-care workers to get vaccinated or wear masks in 2012. The B.C. Nurses' Union opposed it and so did the B.C. Health Sciences Association, which represents 16,000 workers, including laboratory and radiation technologists and physiotherapists and pharmacists who work in hospitals.
The association filed a grievance against the policy, but last fall, the province's Labour Relations Board ruled it was reasonable.
On Dec. 1, 2013, health authorities in the province began enforcing the policy and Mr. Hoekstra was fired that month.
His union, the Hospital Employees' Union, said Wednesday it is abiding by the policy.
"Ultimately it was upheld by an arbitrator and as a result health-care workers in B.C. are obliged to abide by the policy or they will face discipline and possible termination, and that's what we saw in this case," said spokesman Mike Old.
Mr. Hoekstra said he refused even to wear a mask on principle.
"If I were to wear the mask, it's saying that I agree with this policy, and I am vehemently, totally against this policy."
Dr. Suni Boraston, director of Vancouver Coastal Health's travel clinic programs, said the "thought of side-effects" and belief that vaccines cause disease deter many from getting vaccinated.
"One of the issues is at the very time we're immunizing people, that's the same time people are incubating all kinds of different viruses. So we could be immunizing someone who is already sick; they just don't have the symptoms yet. So that's why flu vaccine gets blamed for so many other illnesses that happen."