Hospital staff don't care for influenza vaccination — for themselves

by Karoline Laarmann

Injections, that's everyday business for the men and women working in healthcare. As long as it is the patients who have to face the needle, it seems. Like in the years before Dr Heinzpeter Moecke, medical director of Asklepios Klinik Nord-Heidberg in Hamburg, Germany, set an example for his staff and had a vaccination.

Dr Hp. Moecke
Dr Hp. Moecke

In Germany, only 21 percent of the healthcare personnel get an influenza vaccination before winter sets in. The World Health Organization (WHO) is alarmed and demands broader vaccine coverage among healthcare workers: the outbreak of an influenza pandemic cannot be ruled out, the WHO says, and if it happens, healthy healthcare personnel is vital, for all of us. 
 At the congress for anaesthesiology and intensive care last month in Berlin, Dr Moecke and other experts emphasised the significance of influenza vaccination in order to be able to effectively contain damages should a pandemic occur. And a pandemic is „not improbable“, the experts warn.
But when is the best point in time to get a vaccination? Dr Moecke's answer is succinct: “Now!”

EH online: Dr Moecke, why do you consider timely vaccination of hospital staff so important?

Influenza vaccination is important for everybody, but particularly so for healthcare staff since we have to ensure that if a pandemic breaks out hospitals can uphold operations and deliver patient care. We don’t want hospitals to have to shut down because their staff is suffering from influenza, therefore we need to prepare and develop for example detailed work schedules for the staff.
I am particularly concerned about ICUs. They are currently insufficiently prepared to deal with an influenza pandemic because the real danger of such a pandemic is often underestimated. Experts estimate that during an influenza pandemic about 30 percent of the population will require medical care. In Hamburg alone that would mean that during an eight-week pandemic, we will face 470,000 consultations and 10,500 hospital admissions, 15 percent of which will require intensive care. But it is certainly not only society at large which benefits from broad vaccine coverage, but clearly also the individual healthcare worker. Even if there is no pandemic, we should not underestimate the danger the influenza virus poses to each one of us individually. It is fallacious to think that influenza is life-threatening only for old people and people with poor health. Experience, for example, the Spanish influenza pandemic in the last century, has shown that anybody can fall victim to the deadly virus.

EH online: Aren’t you painting a bit of a „horror scenario“ here?

Not at all. WHO experts for infectious diseases consider the probability of an influenza pandemic to be anywhere around 3 on a scale from 0 to 6. This is the so-called interpandemic warning phase. We have to expect an influenza pandemic, but we do not know when it will happen. Therefore, timely preparation is crucial.
With globalisation and increasing mobility a pandemic will spread incredibly fast as those who carry the virus can spread it while travelling before the symptoms set in and the patients realize that they are ill.
It’s a bit like the seat belt: I have been driving cars since 1868 and although I never had an accident I am convinced that it is right to wear a seat belt.

EH online: How do you and your clinic prepare for the influenza wave?

The vaccination has to occur quite some time before the influenza season starts so the body has sufficient time to build antibodies. Therefore: now it is the time to act!
Obviously, vaccination is purely voluntary, but we try to make things as easy as possible for our staff: they can get the vaccination free of charge and during working hours so they don’t have to take time off to go and see a doctor and they don’t incur additional costs.


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