Concern over low uptake of flu vaccine by healthcare workers

The health authorities have expressed concern about the low uptake of the flu vaccine among health workers in hospitals and nursing homes.

A survey by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre has revealed that just over one in five of all healthcare staff in such facilities availed of a free flu vaccination last year.

Results from 50 of the largest hospitals in the country showed the overall uptake was 22.5% of medical staff last winter. It represents a slight improvement on the vaccination rate of 21.3% recorded in 2014.

Average uptake levels among similar staff in the UK was over 50% during the same period. In the US, vaccination levels reached over 66%. Healthcare workers in only seven Irish hospitals — 14% of the total surveyed — achieved the target vaccination rate of 40%.

The lowest flu vaccination rate across all hospitals was among nursing staff at 16.7%. The highest rate was among medical and dental professionals at 38.2%.

Vaccination rates were below 10% in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan; the Mid- West Regional Maternity Hospital, Limerick; Monaghan General Hospital and Lourdes Orthopaedic Hospital, Kilkenny. The highest uptake levels were recorded in Children’s University Hospital in Temple Street, Dublin, at 47%. Others with rates over 40% were the National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght; the Coombe Maternity Hospital; Beaumont Hospital; Rotunda Hospital, St Vincent’s Hospital, and the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

Overall uptake levels in long-term care facilities like nursing homes were slightly higher than in hospitals at 26.6% — down from 28.1% in 2014. Almost 1 in 5 such healthcare centres reached the 40% target vaccination rate among its staff.

The survey of long-term care facilities also showed varying regional differences with uptake highest in north Dublin at 48.1%.

However, it fell as low as 15.2% in the South-East.

Like in hospitals, the highest uptake was among medical and dental professionals and the lowest among nursing staff.

Among certain vulnerable groups which the HSE and the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland recommend should receive the annual seasonal flu vaccine are frontline healthcare workers. Others including those over 65 years, pregnant women, people who are morbidly obese as well as those with specified chronical medical conditions and occupational groups such as people who work with poultry, wild fowl, and pigs.

“Due to the nature of their work and regular and close contact with patients, the risk of infection to healthcare workers is high, who in turn can easily transmit influenza to other non- infected patients”, according to the HPSC, which is the specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases in Ireland. It claims that for this reason the seasonal flu vaccination is an important infection control measure.

All healthcare facilities are provided with doses of the flu vaccine free of charge by the HSE. Implementation of the vaccine programme, is usually organised by the management of the healthcare facility. The HPSC said a sharp reduction in influenza-related outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care facilities this year was unlikely to be attributable to staff vaccine uptake.

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