Some NHS staff are choosing not to have the flu vaccine because they incorrectly believe it will give them flu, England’s chief nurse has said.
Last winter, 68.7% of frontline healthcare workers received the flu vaccination, however Professor Jane Cummings said this year she wants 100% of the workforce to have the jab.
Healthcare workers need to get vaccinated because some patients may be vulnerable to catching the flu from them.
Professor Cummings said she was recently contacted by someone on Twitter who had acute leukaemia. They claimed that while being treated in isolation they had caught flu from an unvaccinated healthcare worker.
“For somebody with leukaemia that could be incredibly serious,” said Prof Cummings. “And the same goes for anybody undergoing any type of treatment where they are much more vulnerable to the flu virus.”
There are many reasons why NHS staff might choose to not have the flu vaccine, including difficulty getting an appointment when working night shifts or religious beliefs.
But Prof Cummings said medical myths are also proving problematic, especially the one that suggests having the vaccine gives people flu (which it doesn’t).
“Remember healthcare workers do lots of jobs, they’re not just doctors and nurses,” she added. “But yes, some people do think it gives them flu.”
On Friday, a letter was sent to staff aiming to dispel some of the myths surrounding flu in a bid to encourage them to get this year’s vaccine.
Prof Cummings said it’s critical that all of staff are vaccinated, especially as up to half of them might carry the flu virus but not necessarily have any symptoms. “They may not feel ill, they may not be aware that they’re carrying it,” she said. “And of course, we all have a duty of care to our patients.”
Last year we had a particularly harsh flu season, with 15,000 people dying from it. This – as well as extreme weather and high levels of norovirus – put the NHS under extreme pressure. Prof Cummings added that vaccinating against flu is another way to try and prevent staff sickness, which would ease the burden on the NHS this winter.