Low influenza vaccination rates among Victorian hospital staff could be putting the health of patients at risk, say disease prevention and control experts.
A study published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia shows less than half of Victorian health workers in public hospitals were vaccinated in 2005 even though the vaccine is provided free through the national vaccination program.
'Influenza vaccination is recommended for health care workers (HCWs) by international authorities and committees,' says Dr Ann Bull, an epidemiologist at the VICNISS Coordinating Centre in Melbourne.
Dr Bull says vaccination of HCWs has been shown to be safe and effective, and prevents a significant number of influenza infections, hospitalisations and deaths among patients.
Vaccination of HCWs has also been associated with reduced absences from work due to illness, she says.
The study, using data provided by Victorian public hospitals, showed only 38 per cent of HCWs were vaccinated against influenza in 2005. Rates of vaccination were higher for laboratory staff than for clinical and non-clinical staff.
Dr Bull says there is a need for ongoing education campaigns targeted at HCWs.
'Thirty one per cent of resident physicians at a (US) teaching college believed (incorrectly) that influenza vaccine could cause influenza,' she said.
The Coordinating Centre also recommends further collection and use of data on the ongoing efforts to improve vaccination uptake in HCWs and to ensure that Victorian hospitals aim to meet, if not exceed, international standards and recommendations.