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Healthcare workers to get their shot

Healthcare workers are more likely to become infected with influenza than members of the general population, yet vaccination rates among staff remains low. Annie May reports.

Experts are calling for a mandatory signed declaration for all staff refusing the flu shot to help improve vaccination rates among their direct care staff – and protect patients.

Healthcare workers are often exposed to the influenza virus during the course of their work, with it estimated that up to 25 per cent of healthcare workers can contract influenza during any given season.

In turn, healthcare workers may transmit the virus to patients in their care, including those who are at high-risk of developing serious complications from influenza, such as the elderly, young children and those with chronic underlying medical conditions.

Annual immunisation of healthcare workers has been cited as the most efficient method of preventing influenza infection and minimising exposure to vulnerable patients. However, studies have found vaccination rates are usually below 50 per cent of direct care staff within Australian healthcare institutions.

It is now critical for healthcare facilities to take greater responsibility for improving rates, according to the Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) which has identified three critical steps to be taken.

These are: mandatory signed declaration by all staff that decline to be vaccinated, and stating their reasons, continued improvements in education about, and access to, vaccination, and mandatory vaccination of all direct care staff within critical high-risk areas.

Direct care staff working in high risk areas who decline vaccination are to be transferred to lower-risk wards or duties, with facilities responsible for keeping accurate records on the vaccination status of all relevant staff, says the ISG.

One of the main barriers against vaccination is the belief that it causes influenza, found a research paper published in the recent Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing. This is despite campaigns by institutions, like the National Institute of Clinical Studies, to dispel this myth.

Abdi Osam, a registered nurse at Austin Hospital’s emergency department used self administered questionnaire’s to examine the attitudes and beliefs of 63 staff working in the ED of a Canberra teaching hospital.

Osman found that only 56.4 per cent of nurses and 58.7 per cent of all staff were vaccinated in 2007 with an expected uptake of 71.4 per cent in 2008.

The most popular reason for having the vaccine among immunised participants was self protection against the flu, says Osman.

Along with the belief that it causes influenza, popular reasons mentioned by staff for not having the vaccine include trust in, or the wish to challenge natural immunity, physician’s advice against the vaccine for medical reasons, severe localised effects from the vaccine, and not believing the vaccine to have any benefit.

While the study reveals a possible upward trend, Osman says more campaigns tailored to the barriers need to be conducted if even better results are to be realised.

“To raise the staffs concern, the campaigns need to address the cycle and spread of the influenza virus and the role the healthcare worker’s can play in either hastening or controlling the spread and this can also explain the benefits of the vaccine,” Osman says.

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