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Why not? Vaccinate or mask up

The best defence is a good offence and this winter Waikato District Health Board CEO Dr Nigel Murray wants his staff prepared for the winter attack.

As health care professionals we have an obligation to our patients and their safety. Influenza associated deaths account for approximately 401 New Zealanders each year, according to a study published by the University of Otago (Baker, Kessaram, 2014).

Last year as an organisation, only 53 per cent of us opted to have the free vaccine. We are not a group of professionals that can claim ignorance when studies prove it is our best defence. According to parts of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer’s Rights, every patient has the right “to have services provided in a manner that minimises the potential harm to, and optimises the quality of life”.

So my question to you all is why?

Why did only 47 of 128 midwives within this DHB not protect their patients by taking a moment to get their immunisations? Last year at Waikato Hospital we had a woman forced to give birth while in a coma after contracting H1N1 somewhere in the community. She was unaware of the risks associated with pregnancy and influenza.  Midwives need to be the ambassadors for influenza vaccinations– an increase in your statistics could also correlate to an increase in those of pregnant women.

In 2014, our doctors had the highest vaccine uptake of any health care professional group. While this was a good achievement, 32 per cent remained unvaccinated.  We must recognise that patients in our facilities are more susceptible to hospital acquired infections. No one should expect to come into our health care facilities or our health care system in a vulnerable position and get the flu from the health care worker who is there to provide care to improve their health.

A report released by the Centre for Disease Control in the US shows us when health care organisations make influenza vaccinations compulsory the uptake is much higher than those that leave it to personal choice. The report highlights that  employees who were required to receive influenza vaccinations recorded 96.5% coverage while those whose employers promoted but did not require it only recorded 76.5%.

Our new policy strongly promotes the flu vaccine, while maintaining a personal choice for employees.  For those who choose to remain unvaccinated it introduces the compulsory use of the mask to protect both employees and patients.

While some may consider the mask as uncomfortable, its certainly not an unusual to use masks in a health care environment.  For example, when we have a contagious patient, we wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like the surgical mask to protect ourselves. So why when the role is reversed, and the threat is to our patient, should the clinical practice be different?

While the mask has been introduced to mitigate the risks to staff and patients who are unvaccinated, the flu vaccination is always preferable.  I believe as an organisation we can set a new benchmark for New Zealand health care professionals and reach 85% vaccinated coverage. So this year consider your patients, consider yourself and consider your colleagues.

Please take a moment. Get vaccinated. Otherwise wear a mask.

Follow the discussion on the Waikato District health Board Facebook page

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