Rob Lambkin-Williams and research nurse Karen Price explain why it is more important than ever for healthcare workers to protect themselves and their patients with the flu vaccine
Last year something went wrong with the flu vaccine. In February 2015 it was estimated to be effective in just 3% of cases, however this figure was revised by Public Health England to working in 34% of cases.
How well the vaccine works can vary from season to season and is dependent on the similarity or “match” between the circulating flu viruses and the strains in the flu vaccine itself.
Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s Director for Health Protection and Medical Director, said:
“In recent years, we have typically seen around 50% (ranging from 25 to 70%) effectiveness for the flu vaccine in the UK, and there has generally been a good match between the strains of flu in the vaccine and those that subsequently circulate. However, last year we saw a slightly lower vaccine effectiveness than usual.”
Given the publicity in early 2015 of the 3% figure, people may wonder why they should bother this year.
”People may wonder why they should bother this year”
The ONS has just released (Nov 2015) figures showing 43,900 excess winter deaths occurred in England and Wales in 2014/15, with most of the deaths in people over the age of 75 years.
Scotland also showed an Increased Winter Mortality figure for 2014/15 of 4,060. At least 14 other European countries reported similar figures, according to the Department of Health.
It is thought the flu virus was the major cause of the rise. In my mind this shows the crucial nature of the vaccine in preventing those excess deaths each year. It may not have reached the media frenzy of 2012 with H1N1 ‘Swine Flu’, but those working in clinical care last winter have no doubt the impact this had on patients, families, carers and staff.
In addition to these deaths, there were 1,187 admissions to intensive care and high dependency units during 2014/15 due to lab confirmed flu across England and 8.4% of these resulted in death.
”The impact of a zero protection by not getting vaccinated could potentially be disastrous for an already over-stretched NHS”
If just a 16% reduction in effectiveness can lead to such a dramatic rise in the winter effect, the impact of a zero protection by not getting vaccinated could potentially be disastrous for an already over-stretched NHS.
It has also been reported that the uptake of the flu vaccine programme by patients this season is down around 30% from last year. Early indication of frontline healthcare worker uptake of the influenza vaccine is 32.4%, slightly down on the previous 2 years.
As registered nurses we commit to upholding professional standards. It is our duty to prioritise people, practice effectively, preserve safety and promote professionalism and trust.
One fundamental way we can care for our patients is to have the flu vaccination ourselves and encourage others whether they be colleagues, patients or relatives to be vaccinated also.