Substantial jump in nurses getting 'flu jab

1 April 2014

The uptake of nurses getting the flu vaccine rose nine per cent last year but there is still room for improvement, says the National Influenza Specialist Group*.

Of particular concern is the gap of more than 40 per cent between the top performing Northland District Health Board (73 per cent of nurses vaccinated) and the unnamed lowest performing DHB.

Overall, the average rate of registered and enrolled nurses in district health boards (DHBs) getting vaccinated went up from 46 per cent in 2012 to 55 per cent in 2013

“These overall (nurse) levels are much closer to what we need to protect those most at risk in our communities and hospitals,” says NISG spokesperson and virologist Dr Lance Jennings.

“Influenza should not be underestimated. It is a serious disease which can lead to severe outcomes. Research shows that hospital-acquired infections have a high fatality rate up to 27 per cent, especially in patients with underlying medical conditions.”

However, nurse flu vaccination rates as low as 32 per cent for nurses and 17 per cent for midwives in some DHBs indicated that “there is still a lot of work to do”.

The average nurse flu vaccination rate still remains lower than the average DHB healthcare worker vaccination rate of 58 per cent. Midwives were even lower at 46 per cent.

Dr Jennings says that the very old and very young are especially at risk from complications of influenza because they may not respond well to flu vaccines or they are less able to fight the infection.

“That’s why those of us in close contact with these people need to be immunised to reduce the spread of the infection and the likelihood of them picking it up. You can still spread influenza without even knowing you have it.”

The NISG and the Ministry of Health are “strongly encouraging” all nurses and midwives to be vaccinated this year (see other related article about early cases in ICU).

The NISG says the seasonal influenza vaccine is made using technology with an excellent and long-standing safety record and stresses that immunisation “cannot give you the flu” as it does not contain live viruses.

*The NISG was formed in 2000 by the Ministry of Health to increase public awareness