Flu season is around the corner once again, and that has B.C. health care workers anxious to find out whether they’ll be pressured to get a shot this year because of a controversial provincial policy.

Cases of the flu usually spike in the months between December and March, so unions are waiting for an arbitrator to decide whether a B.C. government policy mandating a choice of either flu shots or masks for all health care workers is valid.

Unions including the Health Sciences Association have been vocal in their opposition to the shots-or-masks plan, causing the government to temporarily back away from it.

“The arbitrator does know that flu season is upon us, and we are hoping that he will come down with his decision prior to when the flu vaccination will be required to be taken by health employees,” said HSA spokeswoman Valerie Avery.

“We’re firmly of the view that nobody should be required to be vaccinated against their will, when the evidence doesn’t support the value of the vaccine in preventing influenza among patients.”

The government launched the mandatory program to protect patients because it said a voluntary plan wasn't working. Fewer than 50 per cent of workers were being vaccinated against the flu in some health settings.

“Last year we saw a fairly heavy season: lots of influenza A, and particularly a virus called H3N2, which causes severe illness in the elderly, so we expect that we might see more of the same this year,” said Meena Dawar, a medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. “The influenza vaccine is safe, it works, and come on out and roll up your sleeve and get your flu shot.”

This season, even those visiting patients in hospitals and care facilities will be eligible for a free flu shot. Masks will be made available to visitors as well, according to VCHA.

Each year the flu vaccine is reformulated in order to match what scientists believe will be the circulating viral strain that winter. Those considered most at risk are the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

It's estimated that about 8,000 people die from the flu or its complications every year in Canada

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Maria Weisgarber and files from The Canadian Press