Should healthcare workers be vaccinated?
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 vulnerable patients including pregnant women.
The Ministry of Health recommends annual influenza vaccination of healthcare workers because influenza is a significant public health issue in New Zealand. Healthcare workers are twice as likely to acquire influenza than non-healthcare workers, and healthcare workers can transmit influenza without knowing they are infected.
A meta-analysis of studies of influenza A (H1N1) infection in 2009 showed that healthcare workers were twice as likely to have influenza than non-healthcare workers. In general, around 10% of adults who do not receive an influenza vaccination catch influenza annually and approximately half of these cases are asymptomatic.
Influenza does not always cause symptoms or make a person feel unwell. Data from the Southern Hemisphere Influenza and Vaccine Effectiveness Research and Surveillance (SHIVERS) study, based in Auckland, suggest that four out of five children and adults (80%) with influenza did not have symptoms. In an earlier study 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% confidence interval 13–30%]).
Healthcare workers have a duty of care 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.
Influenza vaccination coverage rates for District Health Board (DHB) based healthcare workers increased to 77% in 2020, the highest coverage to date. The Ministry of Health goal is at least 80% of all healthcare workers vaccinated against influenza annually. The 2020 Workforce Influenza Immunisation Coverage Rates by District Health Boards report is available on the Ministry of Health website www.health.govt.nz/our-work/preventative-health-wellness/immunisation/influenza.
Click on this link to read the Ministry of Health position statement addressing influenza immunsation of healthcare workers.
Recommend annual influenza vaccination