Health workers may have to give a written explanation justifying their refusal to have the flu vaccine after it emerged just one in four bother to avail of it.
However, the HSE and disease control experts are at odds over tougher measures to increase the numbers being vaccinated, with the HSE refusing to act on advice to make flu vaccination a condition of employment.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) says there is a “considerable challenge” ahead to get staff at hospitals and nursing homes to take the vaccine and it may have to be made mandatory.
The HSE has ruled out that option and is taking the “education and encouragement” approach, despite the numbers of workers opting to be vaccinated falling in hospitals and only rising slightly in long-term care facilities since a HSE campaign to boost uptake began in 2013.
However, health chiefs are considering another HPSC suggestion of introducing declination forms to require workers to explain why they’re opting out.
Such forms are used in other countries and require health workers to sign a statement saying they understand why they’re being asked to have the vaccine, they acknowledge the risks to themselves and others by not getting vaccinated, and requiring them to give a reason why they refuse to be vaccinated.
The HSE said of the HPSC proposal: “Discussions are ongoing with all relevant stakeholders.”
Only 23% of workers in 45 hospitals that responded to a HPSC study had the vaccine in the 2014/15 flu season. The uptake rate was only slightly higher, 25%, for workers in 91 long-term care facilities looking after the elderly, people with disabilities, and mental health patients.
That’s despite the vaccine being free to health care workers and available to be administeredin their own work setting.
HSE South had the lowest uptake rates of all — 17% for workers in long-term care facilities and only 13.3% in hospitals. Dublin North East had the highest rate for long- term care workers at 36.1% and Dublin Mid Leinster was highest for hospital workers at 30.6%.
No region came near the HSE’s target of 40% uptake when it began its awareness campaign in 2013 and that target is well below the ultimate goal of a 75% uptake as set down by the European Council. Experts estimate that between 200 and 500 vulnerable people die of flu or flu complications in an average year.
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