Health service staff have largely ignored calls to get vaccinated against influenza, with just one in four workers getting the flu jab this winter. Fewer than 24 per cent of hospital staff and 26 per cent of healthcare workers in nursing homes and care facilities have received the flu vaccine, new figures show.
The uptake for the seasonal vaccine is as low as 7 per cent in some hospitals, while in four long-term care facilities, no staff at all has been vaccinated. Uptake among healthcare staff is virtually unchanged from last winter, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
This is in spite of a high-profile campaign by the Health Service Executive to encourage staff to protect patients by getting vaccinated, as well as personal appeals by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar has ruled out mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers, which is becoming more common in the US, but has suggested doctors and nurses might be required to tell patients whether or not they are vaccinated.
The uptake of the vaccine is generally lowest in smaller, local hospitals – just 7 per cent in Lourdes orthopaedic hospital in Kilcreene, Co Tipperary, and 10 per cent in Monaghan, Roscommon and Waterford hospitals. The highest uptake at 47 per cent was in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, followed by Temple Street children’s hospital at 45 per cent.
The figures vary greatly from hospital to hospital – in Beaumont Hospital, 42 per cent of staff were vaccinated but in the nearby Mater hospital, the figure was just 23 per cent.
Among nursing homes and care facilities, no staff were vaccinated in four locations – Castletownbere and Dunmanway community hospitals in Cork, Rowanfield House in Donegal town and St Fionnán’s community nursing unit on Achill Island. In contrast, the uptake of the vaccine in St Coleman’s in Macroom, Co Cork, was 100 per cent, while in Regina House in Kilrush, Co Clare, it was 90 per cent.
Flu levels this winter are running at up to four times normal levels and have peaked higher than during last winter. Rising rates of infection are partly to blame for the surge in emergency department overcrowding in hospitals last month, when attendances were up 9 per cent over the same period in 2015.
One in five healthcare workers will become infected with the flu in a typical winter, but many will continue to work.