Nurse flu vaccine uptake rates vary widely

21 April 2017

The top region for nurse flu vaccination rates last year was once again Tairawhiti – topping Waikato and Northland, which both have 'vaccinate or mask' (VOM) policies.

Eighty-three per cent of Tairawhiti District Health Board nurses had a free flu vaccination at work last year, compared with 81 per cent at Northland DHB and 80 per cent at both Waikato and Auckland DHBs. All four were well above the national average of 67 per cent of DHB nurses, which was slightly up on 66 per cent last year and 59 per cent the previous year. The lowest nurse vaccination rates were 53 per cent at Wairarapa and Waitemata DHBs.

Cathy Brown, the occupational health nurse leading the Tairawhiti campaign in 2012, says the DHB has made no changes to its successful policy of starting the vaccination season with a focused, week-long campaign into every DHB department followed by catch-up clinics near the staff cafeteria.

Likewise Christine Sieczkowski, infection prevention and control service nurse manager at Auckland DHB, says it also had made little change to its approach – which included both fixed venue vaccination clinics, in-team vaccinators and follow-up letters and emails – but was shifting more "towards personal responsibility and further away from mandatory".

Waikato DHB introduced a hardline VOM policy in 2015 – including suspending two unvaccinated nurses for not wearing masks – which saw its nurse vaccination rate jump from 52 per cent in 2014 to 81 per cent in 2015 and settle at 80 per cent last year.

Sue Hayward, director of nursing and midwifery at Waikato, said last winter it continued with the same policy  – requiring non-vaccinated health workers to wear masks while delivering care during the declared influenza season – but the very mild flu levels last year meant there was no declared influenza season in the Waikato in 2016. She added that Waikato's medical officer of health was concerned that last year's incredibly mild flu season might see people be complacent this year but the northern hemisphere had had a "particularly nasty strain of influenza" so the same could be expected here.

Hayward said Waikato would continue with the same VOM policy this year to reduce the risk of a health care worker cross-infecting a patient. She also pointed to the new data showing four out of five people infected with flu show no signs (see related story).

Northland DHB, which had worked with its unions to incrementally implement its own mask policy, has steadily increased its nurse vaccination rate from 60 per cent in 2014 to 76 per cent in 2015 and 81 per cent in 2016.

The national average for all healthcare workers in 2016 was 65 per cent – down from 66 per cent the previous year. Doctors had the highest vaccination rates at 70 per cent, followed by nurses on 67 per cent, 'other' on 64 per cent, allied health staff on 61 per cent and midwives on 54 per cent.

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