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By Gary Evans, Medical Writer
Flu immunization rates of healthcare workers continue to be high in hospitals, but are lagging in long term care and other sectors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
A CDC internet survey found that during the 2016–17 influenza season 79% of healthcare workers overall were vaccinated. That is similar to coverage during the 2015–16 season and the last few seasons before that. Vaccination coverage remained high among hospital workers (92%), and considerably lower among workers in ambulatory care (76%) and long term care (68%).
“As in previous seasons, coverage was highest among healthcare personnel (HCP) who were required by their employer to be vaccinated (97%) and lowest among HCP working in settings where vaccination was not required, promoted, or offered on-site (46%),” the CDC reported.
The overall trend is a plateau effect, as immunization rates remain stalled at the same level over several seasons.
“While we don’t know for sure why vaccination coverage among healthcare workers has plateaued over the past four influenza seasons, we do know that workplace efforts to promote vaccination -- which are associated with [higher] vaccination coverage -- have also plateaued,” says Carla Black, MD, the lead author of the CDC paper. “By the 2016-17 season, almost all healthcare workers working in hospital settings reported either being required to be vaccinated or being offered flu vaccine at their workplace free of charge. However, healthcare settings other than hospitals have not followed suit in increasing their efforts to promote vaccination in the workplace.” There have been some court decisions favoring workers who took religious exemptions to getting the seasonal flu shot. However, the CDC cites findings in the literature that show that immunizing healthcare workers against flu protects patients.1,2
Some workers continue to decline flu shots because of lingering myths and misconceptions about vaccine safety.
“Approximately 30% of unvaccinated respondents in this year’s survey reported that fear of side effects or some other safety concern was the main reason that they were not vaccinated,” Black says. “Flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines.”
1. Ahmed F, Lindley M, Allred N, et al. Effect of Influenza Vaccination of Health Care Personnel on Morbidity and Mortality Among Patients: Systematic Review and Grading of Evidence. Clin Infect Dis 2014;58:(1):50-57.
2. Griffin MR. Influenza Vaccination of Health Care Workers: Making the Grade for Action. Clin Infect Dis 2014;58:(1):58-60.
For more on this story see the November 2017 issue of Hospital Employee Health.