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Nurses not taking up vaccinations

Despite risk of exposure to influenza and other infectious diseases, vaccine take-up rates among health professionals remains dangerously low. By Amie Larter

Despite almost constant recommendations for an annual influenza vaccination, there has been little change in the levels of uptake among Australian healthcare workers.

There is growing concern over these low levels, especially with Monash University researchers recently confirming the severity of hospital-acquired influenza.

Lead researcher and associate professor at Monash University, Dr Allen Cheng said that although rare, hospital-acquired influenza tends to be very severe.

Of 598 cases of influenza analysed from data from a Victorian hospital-based monitoring service, only 4.3 per cent were hospital acquired.

“We only had 26 cases [of hospital-acquired influenza] over two years in the surveillance system, which for over 15 hospitals isn’t a whole lot of cases,” he said.

“But one of the patients did die, and about six of them went to intensive care which is a pretty high proportion.”

Researchers found a connection between nosocomial influenza and existing conditions, with results from the study suggesting patients that had acquired the flu in hospital were likely to be immuno-supressed or have an underlying malignancy.

While it is not certain how the 26 patients got their infections; the concern remains that patients could contract influenza from hospital staff.

Vaccination is particularly important for workers in acute care settings, as there may be patients with severe lung disease and suppression.

“For most people, flu isn’t a dangerous infection, but for patients who are already in hospital for other reasons, it can be a disaster,” Cheng confirmed.

He recommends healthcare professionals get the vaccine for the protections of themselves, their family and, of course, their patients.

“It is thought that less than half of Australian health care workers receive the flu vaccine each season.

“Although the flu vaccine isn’t completely protective, it’s still better than not being vaccinated.”

Dr Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association, has had this year’s seasonal flu shot, and believes health professionals should lead by example.

He supports policies of excluding un-immunised health care workers from patient-care areas.

“Influenza is highly infectious and is droplet spread. The virus can spread by direct skin to skin contact – shaking hands or indirect via aerosols.”

Hambleton and Cheng both agree that health professionals should be experts at cough etiquette, hand washing and social distancing, and must be prepared to isolate themselves from the workplace if they have an infectious disease that is putting their patients or co-workers at risk.

Most states strongly recommend for health professionals to be vaccinated; however there are no compulsory legislations.

South West Healthcare in rural Victoria strongly advocates staff to have the flu vaccine, offering free influenza vaccines onsite for all staff.

Having just completed its 20183 Workplace Influenza Vaccination campaign across its five rural campuses, this year’s figures are still unavailable.

However its 20182 campaign resulted in 64 per cent of its staff being immunised – a 1.5 per cent increase from the previous year.

Julieanne Cliff, South West Healthcare’s nursing director said they hopeful even more staff will follow suit this year, following health minister David Davis’ call for as many health workers to be immunised as possible.

“Encouraging our staff to be immunised is foremost for the protection of our patients, clients and consumers,” she said.

“We know that vulnerable older patients, especially those with significant medical conditions are particularly at risk of becoming very unwell or even dying should they contract the flu.”

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