06 Jun 2022
Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic: increasing the uptake of influenza vaccination by health and aged care workers
A new study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, has highlighted falling rates of influenza vaccination among health and aged care workers following the pandemic.
Researchers from VICNISS, the Victorian Healthcare Associated Infection Surveillance System Coordinating Centre, and the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, both located at the Doherty Institute, monitored the uptake of influenza vaccination in healthcare workers in Victorian public hospitals and aged-care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021) and compared it with vaccination uptake prior to the pandemic (2018-2019).
Victoria has historically had high flu vaccine uptake in healthcare workers (83-88 per cent), and the findings show that initially, this increased when the pandemic hit.
In aged care, where influenza vaccination was made mandatory under Victorian public health orders, 99 per cent of healthcare workers were vaccinated, while in hospitals, where it was not mandatory, 93 per cent of healthcare workers received the influenza vaccine.
However, in the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a reduced vaccine uptake was observed in both hospital (77 per cent) and aged care settings (88 per cent).
University of Melbourne’s Dr Lyn-li Lim, an Infectious Diseases Physician at VICNISS, at the Doherty Institute, said that a number of factors can explain the decline in flu vaccine uptake in healthcare workers.
“It is likely that the focus on COVID-19 risk mitigation activities, including the COVID-19 vaccination program, affected staff influenza vaccination program activities in hospitals and aged care”, Dr Lim explained.
“For instance, vaccination mobile carts may have been prohibited by COVID-19-related restrictions.
“Another factor could have been the low community prevalence of influenza during the last two years leading to complacency about vaccination.”
In older adults and people with certain medical conditions, influenza can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications. High uptake of influenza vaccination in staff working in hospitals and aged care facilities is an effective way to protect vulnerable hospital patients and aged care residents, as well as the healthcare workforce, from the viral infection.
“These findings highlight the need for increased awareness, support and enhancement of influenza vaccine programs in the 2022 influenza season, in order to reduce risks of influenza outbreaks in vulnerable hospital patients and aged care residents,” Dr Lim said.
The research letter outlining the findings published by the research team is available online at https://doi.org/10.5694/mja2.51541