Doctors and nurses are potentially putting patients at risk if they refuse the swine flu vaccine, experts have warned.
By Kate Devlin, Medical Correspondent
Published: 7:30AM BST 26 Aug 2009
Published: 7:30AM BST 26 Aug 2009
Officials said that NHS staff had a duty to take the jab, to ensure they did not pass on the virus to those who were already sick.
The warning follows a spate of surveys which suggest that many healthcare workers will refuse the vaccine, despite being on the Government's “priority list”.
Up to half of GPs and one in three nurses say that they do not plan to take the vaccine, some because of concerns over safety.
Vivienne Parry, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, (JCVI) who advise ministers on vaccines, said that health professionals should protect “vulnerable patients” from the virus.
She said: “This (protection) aspect does not seem to feature at all in medical staff responses about flu vaccination, which is extremely concerning.
“Indeed the word ‘patient’ hardly seems to figure at all in responses in this and other surveys of healthcare workers, even though 75 per cent of deaths fromswine flu are in those with serious underlying medical conditions who are in regular contact with healthcare workers.”
Prof David Salisbury, the Department of Health's director of immunisation, toldGP magazine, which carried out the poll, that frontline health workers had a “duty” to have the vaccine.
“They have a duty to their patients not to infect their patients and they have a duty to their families,” he said.
More than two thirds of GPs who told Pulse magazine that they would turn down the jab believe that it has not undergone enough tests.
Doctors have been warned to look out for possible signs of Guillain Barre Syndrome, a rare neurological condition, which can cause paralysis and even death.
A vaccine used against flu in America in 1976 caused a number of cases of the condition.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) insists that the production of vaccines has become much safer since then.
Human trials are currently underway and will be scrutinised by the regulatory authorities before the vaccines will be licensed for use, probably in October.
Earlier this month a poll of almost 1,500 Nursing Times readers revealed that one in three said that they would not have the swine flu vaccine.
Uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine among NHS staff has been traditionally low, and just 16 per cent of all those employed by the health service took the vaccine last year.
Another study published online by the British Medical Journal shows that half of 8,500 healthcare workers in Hong Kong say that they would refuse a swine flu vaccine, because of safety concerns and worries that it would not work very well.
Researchers said that the figures were surprisingly low given the impact the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus had on the area.
However, some experts insisted that the polls did not prove that NHS staff were “irresponsible” or had serious concerns about the safety of the vaccine.
Prof Robert Dingwall, Director of the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham, said that it was important not to blow the apparent reluctance of healthcare workers to have the vaccine “out of proportion”.
He said: “(These polls) identify a communication challenge for those managing the pandemic but they are not evidence of a crisis of confidence in the vaccine or of professional irresponsibility by health workers."