Viewpoint: GPs should practise what they preach by having a flu jab

Uptake of flu vaccination among health professionals is stubbornly low despite the role the profession plays in informing patients about the benefits of the jab, writes Professor Susanna Esposito.

We are all aware that influenza can be serious and even life-threatening, particularly among high-risk groups such as the very young, elderly, and those suffering from serious medical conditions – and yet, many healthcare professionals still willingly ignore the implications of having no vaccination.

Over the past few years, we have seen varying rates of vaccination uptake among healthcare professionals in Europe, despite free availability. In fact, even in well-performing countries, maximum rates of only around 1/3 of professionals have been recorded in most hospital settings.

We do perform a little better in GP practices, but we should be aiming for rates of 80-90% vaccination, if not 100. Patients attending surgeries and healthcare facilities are consistently encouraged to have their flu jab – but are we all practicing what we preach?

GP flu jab uptake

Posters, TV adverts and warning emails are all examples of marketing tools to encourage patients to be vaccinated, but how often do doctors, nurses and surgery staff urge each other to have the jab?

Wouldn’t it be great to turn the vaccination campaign messages for patients into action for healthcare workers also? It is, after all, the personal responsibility of each professional to ensure they are vaccinated. Many simply believe that since they do not get ill, they do not need to receive the jab, even though it would prevent them from becoming carriers to susceptible patients. This denial of responsibility needs to change in order to further protect the patient and inhibit the spread of influenza in GP settings.

Earlier this month, ESCMID (the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease) called upon EU health services to produce flu vaccination uptake rankings for hospital staff. Implementing a similar initiative for GP surgeries would give patients the crucial knowledge of whether the practitioners treating them have been vaccinated. Imagine how reassuring it would be to learn that all the staff at your surgery have been vaccinated through a simple sign at the entrance?

GP flu ratings

With this as public knowledge, I believe healthcare facilities would be considerably more inclined to ensure all of their staff have been vaccinated and are therefore offering the greatest level of protection – this is undoubtedly in keeping with the Hippocratic Oath. I imagine the sway of any patient vaccination campaign would also dramatically increase should healthcare workers lead by example and become vaccinated – what could be more powerful than declaring ‘we’ve had ours, now you have yours?’

The flu vaccination acts like a protective armour against any stray (viral) bullets we encounter, but if we build-up protection among all high-risk groups, and crucially, healthcare professionals, we are taking away the guns that fire these bullets.

  • Prof. Susanna Esposito is from the Policlinico hospital at the University of Milan and Head of the ESCMID Study Group for Vaccines (EVASG)

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