Should healthcare workers be immunised?
Yes. The World Health Organization strongly recommends healthcare workers as a priority group for influenza vaccination, not only for their own protection and ability to maintain services but also to reduce the spread of influenza to their vulnerable patients including pregnant women.
Healthcare workers can transmit influenza without knowing they are infected. Influenza does not always cause symptoms or make a person feel unwell. Following the 2009 influenza season in New Zealand, almost one quarter of the adults who reported that they had not had influenza in 2009 had serological evidence of prior infection (21% [95% CI 13–30%]). More recently, preliminary data from the Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance (SHIVERS) study, based in Auckland, suggests that 80% of children and adults with influenza did not have symptoms.
Healthcare workers have an ethical responsibility to protect vulnerable patients from the serious health threat of influenza illness. Studies demonstrate that annual influenza vaccination for healthcare workers is likely to reduce illness among the patients they care for. Relying on patients being vaccinated is not enough as vulnerable people may have a poor immune response to their vaccination or may not have been vaccinated this year.
District health board healthcare workers influenza vaccination coverage rates for district health board-based healthcare workers steadily improved from 45% in 2010 to 65% in 2016. The 2016 Workforce influenza Immunisation Coverage Rates by District Health Boards report is available on the Ministry of Health website www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-andconditions/influenza.