Despite mounting evidence showing that the flu shot is the most effective way to protect against the virus, a Toronto-based infection control specialist says many health-care workers are still not getting vaccinated, putting vulnerable patients at risk.

Dr. Allison McGeer, of Mount Sinai Hospital, says that hospitals and nursing homes throughout Canada need to begin discussing the value of mandatory influenza vaccinations for health-care workers.

“There’s now very solid evidence that when you vaccinate health care workers there is less death in the patients they take of,” McGeer told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday. “This is clearly a patient safety issue… the vulnerable patients in our hospitals are at risk of getting influenza and dying of influenza and we have an obligation to protect them. The question is how we do that best.”

McGeer comments follow news that hospitals in London, Ont. will soon begin requiring staff doctors and visitors to be vaccinated against the flu or wear masks if they are in a ward with a hospital-acquired influenza case.

And in early December, the B.C. government backed away – at least temporarily – from a controversial plan to force thousands of provincial health-care works to get the shot before working with patients after three unions launched grievances. Instead, the B.C. Health Ministry said it will work toward compliance from workers in the first year of the program.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., an Indiana hospital fired eight nurses after they refused mandatory flu shots. The nurses said they had a right to refuse the vaccine.

McGeer said individuals tend to be more afraid of vaccinations than the disease itself.

“Neuroscientists will tell us it’s a normal reaction. It’s unfortunately not a very functional reaction and it takes a lot of data to get past it,” she said, adding that much of the research regarding the flu shot is new.

While most Canadians who acquire the flu will take a few days to recover, McGeer said patients in hospitals are often in a vulnerable state.

“Many healthy people in the community look at the flu as not a big risk for themselves, but get vaccinated to protect people around them.”

Doctors are warning that flu season hit Canada early this year and continues to spread across the country.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 31 influenza outbreaks have been reported: 24 in long-term-care facilities, four in hospitals and three in other facilities.