Uptake of flu vaccine among healthcare workers

11 March 2011

Flu poster

Vaccination is an effective way to prevent flu and minimise the spread of an epidemic or a pandemic. However, uptake of vaccination is often poor, as a team at UCL including CHIME's Dr Henry Potts have previously described in a study of the 2009 swine flu pandemic (Rubin, Potts & Michie, 2010, Health Tech Assessment, 14(34): 183-266).

UK guidelines emphasise the need for all frontline healthcare workers to be vaccinated. Healthcare workers are obviously more likely to be exposed to flu and may then, in turn, expose their patients. Yet, surprisingly, flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers are often low.

A new paper published 18 February 2011, by the same research team of Dr James Rubin (now at the Institute of Psychiatry), Dr Henry Potts and Prof. Susan Michie (Research Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology), investigated swine flu vaccination intentions among UK healthcare workers in September and October 2009, shortly before the swine flu vaccine was offered to all frontline NHS workers. Despite being more aware of the risks of flu, a mere 56% of NHS workers reported being likely to accept the vaccine compared to 52% of the rest of the population. And significantly fewer NHS workers (61%) reported being likely to have their child vaccinated against swine flu than the rest of the population (75%). NHS workers were also less likely to be worried about their children catching swine flu than the rest of the population.

Although vaccination of healthcare workers is primarily intended to reduce staff absence and to prevent staff from giving flu to their patients, the reasons given for accepting or declining vaccination suggested workers themselves are more motivated b yperceived personal benefits. When asked their reasons for not getting vaccinated, NHS workers were more likely to be concerned about the vaccine's safety or a lack of testing than the general population.

The paper concludes that we need to understand low uptake rates among healthcare workers before we can successfully increase these. Vaccination of healthcare workers is a safe and effective way of protecting staff and patients during flu pandemics and normal flu seasons, but addressing healthcare workers' motivations is a critical step in the process.

Rubin GJ, Potts HWW, Michie S (2011). Likely uptake of swine and seasonal flu vaccines among healthcare workers. A cross-sectional analysis of UK telephone survey data. Vaccine, doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.01.035

Contact: Dr Henry Potts

Links: Paper at Vaccine