Less than half of staff in hospital oncology day wards availed of a flu vaccine, despite caring for cancer patients whose defences were lowered, a new study has revealed.
The findings showed only 48pc of the day-ward staff were vaccinated due to various reasons, including fears about the jab’s side effects.
Others believed if they were healthy there was no need for the flu jab, the survey by HSE Midlands Department of Public Health and the National Cancer Control Programme showed.
The study, which related to the 2016/2017 flu season, revealed that 87.6pc of staff recommended the flu vaccine to some or all patients.
There are 26 oncology day units in hospitals around the country administering treatments such as chemotherapy to thousands of cancer patients.
“The study highlighted that false beliefs about flu and flu vaccination are held by some oncology staff,” the study in the ‘Irish Medical Journal’ said. “These included disbelief in the benefits that vaccination provides to healthcare workers and their patients, the susceptibility healthcare workers have to flu and the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
Some staff also highlighted fears on vaccine side-effects and the wrong belief that vaccination can lead to the flu.
However, the majority recommended the flu shot to patients but the findings showed there is differing practice among oncologists when it comes to urging vaccination.
“Consultant oncologists can influence vaccine recommendation to patients.”
The authors said that although vaccine uptake in oncology day-ward staff exceeded the national healthcare worker target, there is still scope for improvement.
Targeting misconceptions about the vaccine and allaying fears may be of use in increasing vaccine uptake, said the study.
“Oncology patients are especially vulnerable to flu complications. They are more likely to acquire infection through contact with healthcare settings and are less likely to mount a response to vaccination.”
The authors said a “safe and relatively effective” method of primary prevention is available to protect these patients and their healthcare workers.
“Every effort should be made to ensure healthcare workers are given the opportunity to get vaccinated, are provided with evidence of vaccine effectiveness and safety and are empowered to recommend flu vaccination to their patients.”
A major drive is under way this winter to improve the uptake of the vaccine among all healthcare workers who are putting themselves and patients at risk.
Workers who continue to work when feeling ill can spread the flu virus.
A survey of hospitals last year found vaccine take up ranged from 39.2pc in the west and north-west to 66.2pc among staff in the three main children’s hospitals.
There are fears that this could be a difficult winter for flu based on the high level of infection in Australia.
At-risk groups are being urged to avail of the flu vaccine.
The flu is already circulating here and one patient has been hospitalised with complications from the virus.