Flu vaccine uptake among nursing home staff ‘worringly’ low


Almost 60 per cent of staff working in residential facilities for the elderly in Co Donegal have never had a flu vaccine, according to “worrying” new research.

A study carried out by Dr Louise Doherty, a Donegal-based consultant in public health medicine, found 57 per cent of staff, employed at 20 nursing homes in the county, have never been vaccinated against influenza.

Seven elderly residents died in a nursing home in Fahan, Co Donegal last year during a flu outbreak. Only 9 per cent of the staff there had the flu vaccine, but Dr Doherty stressed that the source of this outbreak, which affected 35 of the 46 residents, had never been identified.

The average uptake of the vaccine among staff in the 20 residential facilities was 21 per cent in 2012/2013 – above the national average of just 15 per cent. Dr Doherty’s research confirmed widespread concerns among healthcare staff about the safety of the vaccine, with over 60 per cent of respondents worried about the side effects.

One of the most alarming findings of the research was that 57 per cent of the 510 staff surveyed said they never had a flu vaccine. Asked why, the majority said they were healthy and did not need it (81 per cent) while 61 per cent were concerned about side effects and 46 per cent said they did not trust the vaccine.

Reduced rates
Dr Doherty, who presented her findings to a recent research conference at Sligo General Hospital, said research in the UK found that institutions with the highest level of immunisation showed reduced rates of flu-like illness, hospitalisation and death in the elderly.

Dr Doherty said healthcare workers could put vulnerable residents at risk without even knowing that they have the flu.

“It could take 24 hours before they feel wiped out but they might be infectious at work,” the consultant said.

The Department of Public Health Medicine, HSE North West, has appointed 60 “flu champions” among staff in 50 community health services, including nursing homes, in Co Donegal in a bid to increase uptake of the vaccine. Staff who don’t wish to be vaccinated are being invited to “opt out” by signing a form saying they have read the information and are making an informed decision not to be vaccinated.

Enforced vaccination is the norm among health workers in the US but Dr Doherty said there were huge ethical considerations “and there has been no research yet to show that it has made a difference in the US”.