By Stephen Adams
Doctors and nurses who fail to get themselves vaccinated against flu are being “selfish” because they risk endangering patients, the Chief Medical Officer of the NHS has said.
Only one frontline healthcare worker in three (34.7 per cent) across England was vaccinated last winter, despite all being urged to have the jab. In some health trusts the figure was just one in 10.
Speaking on Thursday to launch this winter’s campaign, Prof Dame Sally Davies called on them to take the lead.
She said: “It’s selfish for healthcare workers, if they don’t protect their patients from them infecting them [with flu]; if they don’t make sure they are fit to go to work; to look after their families and not take it home too.”
“So we are making a noise and a big effort to try to improve that.”
More than 600 people were confirmed to have died of flu last winter, although virologists believe it contributed to the deaths of far more.
Prof David Salisbury, the NHS’s director of immunisations, said some staff – including GPs – still believed myths about that flu vaccine.
“We still pick up messages from healthcare workers that it can give you flu,” he said.
In many health trusts it was too hard for staff to get the jab, with chief executives giving the issue a low priority.
Staff vaccination rates ranged from just 10 per cent to the “high 90s”, he said.
He commented: “I find it quite a dilemma that they will give advice to their patients and don’t see the need to protect themselves, their families and their patients.
“The general public do better than the healthcare workers and that’s why we really need to work this harder this winter.”
NHS Employers, an umbrella organisation for NHS trusts, is launching a dedicated campaign to increase uptake among staff.
Dean Royles, its director, said: “By working together we can achieve enough vaccinations to dramatically reduce the current high risk of flu spreading within the NHS.”
As far as the public is concernced, this winter’s vaccination programme will again target three groups: all those 65 or over, all pregnant women, and those of any age with particular underlying health problems.
Last winter 72.8 per cent of over 65s got the jab. Thirty-eight per cent of pregnant women were vaccinated and 50 per cent of those in the other “at risk” groups.
This winter’s seasonal vaccine will act against the same strains as last winter’s: H3N2, a B strain, and H1N1, which caused the 2009 pandemic.
Because some GP surgeries ran out last winter the NHS has ordered two million extra doses, bringing the total to 16.7 million.
That includes 400,000 which will be centrally held to be distributed if necessary to areas with shortfalls, a contingency Prof Salisbury described as an “insurance policy”.
Major efforts will be made to increase rates among pregnant women and those with underlying health problems.