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EDITORIAL – Bill Kotsopoulos may try to downplay his role in the province’s decision to repeal its legislation that all paramedics must take a mandatory flu shot, but we believe the publicity surrounding his refusal ultimately forced the government to reconsider.

From the start, the North Bay paramedic said the legislation violated his right of free choice, and he was suspended. What followed were nine months of Kotsopoulos picketing the North Bay General Hospital and a court challenge launched by the Canadian Union of Public Employees on his behalf, and the rights of all paramedics in Ontario to refuse the flu shot.

Eventually, Kotsopoulos was forced to find work elsewhere and he remains the only paramedic in the province who hasn’t been reinstated for his actions – although hospital officials have indicated he may soon be reinstated.

CUPE’s court challenge will now be dropped since there is now no need for it to go ahead. It may well be that the government believed it would have lost its case, that the legislation is indeed a violation of the Charter of Rights. And if Kotsopoulos does return to work in North Bay, we would expect his own grievance with the hospital, which was to have been heard in January, will also be dropped.

Now that he has a choice, Kotsopoulos says he still won’t get a flu shot. In announcing the government’s decision, Health Minister Tony Clement outlined a new influenza control standard that will “set out a system of infection control measures designed to reduce the spread of flu and make the influenza immunization for paramedics no longer mandatory.”

Nevertheless, CUPE officials say they will encourage paramedics to get a flu shot now that they have a choice, and the union even expects a 96 per cent participation rate. While that may sound strange, that just as many paramedics may get a flu shot now that it’s no longer mandatory, the difference is that they now have a choice and those who reluctantly got a flu shot in the past may now refuse.

Flu shots have been shown to be effective at warding off the flu or at least minimizing its effects on people, but no one should be forced to take something if they don’t want to, whether it’s a paramedic or the person sitting next to you in the office. Instead, people should be allowed to consider and weigh all the options before making the choice that is best for them.

In the end, the welfare of the general public should be maintained through the government’s new standard of infection control even if those emergency personnel treating them have not received a flu shot.