Low Level of Immunization Rates among Health Care Professionals Highlighted by WMA

(21.05.2013) The unacceptably low level of immunization rates among health care professionals was highlighted today by the President of the World Medical Association Dr. Cecil Wilson.

Speaking at a luncheon seminar during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Dr. Wilson said that seasonal flu might seem a harmless infection that people got every year and then got over it within a week or so. But it was in fact a significant global health threat that was frequently overlooked.

‘Flu is harmless only at first glance. According to the World Health Organization, influenza outbreaks cause about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year globally. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that an average season of influenza results in tens of thousands of deaths and as many as 200,000 hospitalizations due to influenza-related causes in the US alone.’

Dr. Wilson said the risk of complications associated with influenza is highest among older persons, young children, patients with underlying medical conditions and pregnant women. These are the populations that frequently are around health professionals by virtue of attending clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices. 

He added: ‘Therefore, healthcare professionals play an important role in both transmitting and preventing the virus. The good news is that a safe and affordable vaccine is available against influenza. But the bad news remains that healthcare professionals’ immunization rates are unacceptably low, even in developed countries.’

According to the CDC, the healthcare workers’ vaccination coverage used to be around 40 per cent in the US. However, that changed in 2010 when the Veterans Health Administration healthcare facilities vaccinated 64 per cent of employees though the system-wide “Infection: Don’t Pass it On” campaign. 

‘We have peer-reviewed evidence that as the percentage of immunized healthcare professionals goes up, healthcare-associated influenza goes down. We also know that educational campaigns in immunization work.’ 

Dr. Wilson said that with the support of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations the WMA had launched a global campaign to promote influenza immunization among physicians as a means of protecting their health and the health of their patients. Before launching the campaign, the WMA had surveyed its member associations, representing 102 countries worldwide, and all the respondents had stressed the need for more information and global advocacy on the need for immunization of healthcare professionals. Seventy seven per cent of respondents had asked for toolkits with facts and figures as the most useful advocacy material, followed by web-based resources and draft letters to governments. 

He said that getting a flu shot is a routine task that every healthcare professional should be performing every year. Physician vaccination practice also has the extra benefit of encouraging patients to follow their doctors’ lead, as physicians are the best role models for healthy behaviours.

'Immunizing physicians against influenza represents a standard of quality care. We, as an organization speaking on behalf of more than 9 million physicians globally, are saying today that we can do better!'

Here is the WMA Influenza Immunization campaign video released today.