​Annual influenza vaccination for healthcare workers is important and should be routine. Getting vaccinated helps to protect you, your family and your vulnerable patients.

Influenza may be particularly serious for patients and residents at higher risk of developing influenza-related complications.​

Last updated: 19 September 2016

Why is annual influenza vaccination recommended for healthcare workers?

Healthcare workers (HCW) are an important priority group for influenza vaccination, not only to protect the individual and maintain healthcare services during influenza epidemics, but also to reduce spread of influenza to vulnerable patient groups. [1,2]

Are healthcare workers at greater risk of infection?

Yes. Anyone can catch influenza if exposed to the virus but healthcare workers are more likely to be exposed to influenza because of their work. [3] Staff working in emergency departments and other clinical settings are likely to be most at risk.

Does the influenza vaccine work?

When the vaccine and circulating viruses are antigenically similar, influenza vaccination prevents laboratory-confirmed influenza illness among approximately 70%-90% of healthy adults aged less than 65 years in randomized controlled trials. [4]

WHO has estimated that influenza vaccination of HCW prevents serologically confirmed influenza infection among HCWs with an efficacy of 88%. [5]

Without a vaccination am I likely to infect others?

Yes. Infected healthcare workers regularly transmit influenza to patients and are likely to be an important source of infection for patients in healthcare and residential care settings.

Higher influenza vaccination levels among healthcare workers reduces the risk of influenza and influenza-complications among vulnerable patients. This is particularly relevant in settings such as aged-care homes as older residents are less likely to develop strong immune response to vaccines and are more likely to develop serious influenza-related complications. There have also been cases of influenza-related deaths in neonatal intensive care units and paediatric oncology wards following healthcare worker transmission.

Even if you don't show symptoms of influenza you can transmit the virus to patients. Infected health adults are infectious from one day before symptoms develop and for five to seven days after becoming sick.

Who should get vaccinated?

All health and social care staff directly involved in the care of patients or residents in:

  • general practices and health centres
  • hospitals
  • residential care homes

This includes:

  • administrative staff with patient with patient contact
  • ambulance officers
  • medical staff
  • nurses
  • other health professionals and ward staff
  • pharmacists

Higher influenza vaccination levels among staff of residential aged-care homes also reduces influenza-related illness and deaths in residents. [6]

When should you get vaccinated?

Flu vaccination should begin as soon as possible after the seasonal vaccine becomes available.

Influenza seasons are unpredictable and can begin as early as April and last until October. Vaccines can be given at anytime throughout the winter months, however it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the vaccine to become effective.

Do I need to get vaccinated every year?

The influenza virus changes each year which is why a new influenza vaccine is formulated to keep up with the influenza virus subtypes as they change. Even if the strains don't change vaccination every year optimises your antibody levels to protect you from influenza.

Are flu vaccines safe?

Serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines are very rare. The flu vaccines used in Australia are not live so you cannot get influenza from a vaccination.

When making a choice to get vaccinated it is important to compare the risks from the infection (influenza) with the risks from the vaccine:

Risks associated with influenza infection

Common symptoms

  • fever, sore throat, runny nose, dry cough, headache and muscle ache (7-10 days)
  • croup and bronchiolitis in children

Common complications

  • pneumonia
  • ear and sinus infections
  • myocarditis and pericarditis
  • exacerbation of a chronic medical condition (e.g. asthma, congestive heart failure, COPD)

Rare complications

  • septicaemia
  • encephalopathy
  • death

Risks associated with influenza vaccination

Common adverse events

  • minor soreness/pain, redness and/or swelling around the injection site
  • short-term fever, fatigue, and/or muscle ache (1-2) days

Rare adverse events

  • urticaria (hives)

Very rare adverse events

  • anaphylaxis
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome (<1 per 1,000,000)

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

Check with your employer first - many healthcare facilities provide influenza vaccination for their staff. Alternatively, seasonal influenza vaccine is available from your GP and from some pharmacies.

Are there other ways I can prevent getting the flu?

Other preventive measures to limit the spread of flu are:

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water of alcohol hand rub
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • bin your used tissue straight away
  • stay at home when you are ill

Further information

References​

  1. NHMRC: Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. The Australian Immunisation Handbook. 10th Ed. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health.
  2. World Health Organization (WHO). Strategic Advisory Group of experts on Immunization (SAGE) Report, April 2012. Weekly Epidemiological Record. No. 47, 2012, 87, 461–476.
  3. Kuster SP, Shah PS, Coleman BL, Lam P-P, Tong A, et al. Incidence of Influenza in Healthy Adults and Healthcare Workers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis PLoS ONE . Published 18 October 2011. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0026239.
  4. Fiore AE et al. Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2010MMWR Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 2010, 59(RR 08):1–62.)
  5. World Health Organization (WHO). Vaccines against influenza WHO position paper November 2012. See Table 5a - Efficacy of influenza vaccine in health care workers.
  6. Hayward AC, Harling R, Wetten S, et al. Effectiveness of an influenza vaccine programme for care home staff to prevent death, morbidity, and health service use among residents: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ;2006;333:1241.
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