Despite predictions for an extra busy flu season, Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health is not advocating mandatory vaccinations for H1N1 and the regular influenza virus for city employees and public health-care workers.

“I would recommend that we continue to educate, to make available and transparent all the information that we have about the vaccine and to respect individuals’ rights to make their choices about what they want to do,” Dr. Isra Levy told city council yesterday.

Ottawa is expected to get its shipment of the H1N1 vaccine in November.

Levy said the challenge will be to convince people to get vaccinated against both H1N1 and the regular influenza virus.

Provincially, only 45 per cent of Ontarians get the flu shot each year. Healthcare agencies tend to target having between 60 and 80 per cent of their workers vaccinated. Levy said most facilities in the province do not reach that goal.

Such low uptake sends a mixed message to the public, said Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Jacques Legendre.

“The degradation of the message is strong when the health-care sector doesn’t do,” said Legendre.

He said there are lessons to be learned from Toronto’s experience with SARS, when the health-care system struggled because so many of its employees became sick.

Ottawa paramedics are the only service in Ottawa required to get flu shots, but there are exceptions even to that mandate, according to Diane Deans, chair of the city’s community and protective services committee.

“We want as many of our frontline workers to be healthy and we recommend that they get the vaccine, but in most cases we fall short of actually requiring it,” said Deans.

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