Just 4 in 10 frontline NHS staff have had the flu vaccine this winter

Just 4 in 10 frontline NHS staff have had the flu vaccine this winter

Just 4 in 10 frontline NHS staff have had the flu vaccine this winter – and even fewer had a Covid booster – potentially putting vulnerable patients at risk

  • 42 per cent of patient-facing NHS staff had received flu jab by November 30
  • Only 36 per cent of frontline NHS workers had received seasonal Covid booster by the same date 
  • Vivienne Parry said ‘vaccine fatigue’ and anti-vaxxer sentiment part of the issue

Just four in 10 frontline NHS workers have had their flu vaccine this winter, and even fewer have had their Covid booster – potentially putting vulnerable patients at risk.

Official figures show only 42 per cent of patient-facing NHS staff had received their flu jab by November 30 – down from 71 per cent for the same period two years earlier.

And a mere 36 per cent of frontline NHS workers had received a seasonal Covid booster by the same date, despite all being offered one.

Last night, scientist and broadcaster Vivienne Parry said ‘vaccine fatigue’ and the ‘insidious’ rise in anti-vaxxer sentiment had led to many NHS employees skipping their jabs this season.

Official figures show only 42 per cent of patient-facing NHS staff had received their flu jab by November 30 – down from 71 per cent for the same period two years earlier

She said: ‘Staff sometimes think they are immune because they come across infected patients all the time.

‘But while constant small exposures to flu might give them a little protection, it’s no guarantee.’

Part of the reason for the drop was the increased difficulty organisation staff vaccination campaigns ‘when the NHS is rushed off its feet’.

But she added: ‘I think another reason is simply vaccine fatigue. And since the pandemic began we’ve seen a really insidious rise in “anti-vaxxer” sentiment. You can’t go on social media without being deluged by waves of it.

Last night, scientist and broadcaster Vivienne Parry said ‘vaccine fatigue’ and the ‘insidious’ rise in anti-vaxxer sentiment had led to many NHS employees skipping their jabs this season

‘Even if people say to themselves, “I don’t believe any of that anti-vax stuff,” I think it still has an influence.’

She argued it should be mandatory for all NHS staff who dealt with patients in clinical roles to have the flu jab unless they had a valid health reason.

‘They have a duty of care to patients,’ she said. ‘You don’t know how vulnerable the people you are caring for might be.’

In early October NHS Employers, which represents employers like hospital trusts, urged: ‘It’s important that all eligible healthcare workers receive their COVID-19 and flu vaccines this year to not only protect their workforce, but also help protect their patients and services.’

Almost a tenth of hospital beds in England, some 9,390, were occupied by Covid patients in the week up to New Year’s Day, latest figures show. Another 5,105 were taken by those with flu. Most will have been infected outside hospital – but studies show in-hospital transmission is also significant.

Johnny Heald, chief executive of polling firm ORB International, which has worked on vaccine confidence since the pandemic began, said a survey of 17,000 Britons found healthcare workers actually had lower vaccine uptake than those who worked in other areas.

Only 36 per cent of frontline NHS workers had received a seasonal Covid booster by November 30, despite all being offered one

He added: ‘Confidence in vaccines as a whole has been declining across many European countries since the pandemic.’

But Dr Alex De Figueiredo, of the Vaccines Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said research showed that across the EU trust in vaccines was more or less the same now as it had been in 2018.

‘Confidence [in vaccines] spiked in 2020 and then came down,’ he said.

He said to some extent the drop-off in flu jab uptake was to be expected: while it was ‘pushed incredibly hard’ in 2020 and 2021, the campaign had been less intense this winter.

He also believed hard-line policies – like the threat that NHS workers would lose their jobs if they failed to get the Covid jab – had led to a ‘backlash’.

An NHS spokesman said: ‘Hundreds of thousands of NHS staff have already protected themselves, their colleagues and those they care for from serious illness this winter by getting the flu jab.

‘Flu as a serious impact on the health of thousands of people every year, and the NHS needs as many of its staff as possible to be fighting fit over the coming months, so we continue to promote vaccination uptake across healthcare workers.’

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