Receiving the ‘flu vaccination – your duty or your choice?

The aim of the annual immunisation campaign is to help protect adults and children at risk of ‘flu and its complications. But, as you all know, its not just your patients who are targeted by the campaign: as frontline health and social care workers, you are also eligible for the ‘flu vaccine free of charge.

Spreading the word

Part of the role of the immuniser is to educate patients, not only about any possible side effects of the ‘flu vaccine but also about by why vaccines are necessary and the ‘herd immunity’ effect.

Health and social care staff are expected to encourage patients and service users to receive all their necessary immunisations. Yet there’s still a large proportion of staff who choose not to have the ‘flu vaccines; even though 2017 had the worst influenza season for many years, figures show that less than 70% of NHS staff were vaccinated.

As things stand, its up to the individual staff member to decide whether or not to receive the vaccine, however there’s been various reports in the media about ‘NHS trusts getting tough’ on those that refuse the vaccine with suggestions that staff could be deployed to less ‘at risk’ areas. Concerns are so high that a mandatory ‘flu vaccination for healthcare workers was even discussed in the House of Commons recently.

So, let’s look at the advantages of getting immunised, as well as other ways to keep yourself well this winter.

Why get the ‘flu jab?

Regardless of what clinical area you work in, the challenges of winter put extra demands on services. When staff become unwell this pressure only increases. So, you need to look after yourself during the coming months. Instead of thinking of the ‘flu vaccine as something you are being told to do by your employer, it can help to concentrate on the benefits.

According to the National Institute of for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), who published their ‘Flu vaccination: increasing uptake guidance’ in August, promoting ‘flu vaccination to frontline health and social care staff helps to:

  • protect the people you care for
  • protect you and your families / housemates
  • protect your co workers

This is backed up by Danny Mortimer, chief executive of representative body NHS Employers, who said: ‘the vaccine is the best protection staff have against ‘flu’.

In addition, NICE point out that receiving the vaccine helps you to meet professional expectations such as the British Medical Association's position statement, the General Medical Council's guidance on good medical practice and the Royal College of Nursing's duty of care statement.

We know though, that overall uptake of vaccines fell due to misinformation regarding the MMR vaccine in the late 1990s. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the research that sparked off initial concerns has been completely discredited. England’s top doctor, Prof Dame Sally Davies, has recently been quoted as saying ‘people who believe the myths spread by anti-vaccine campaigners are absolutely wrong.’

If you still have worries about this year’s vaccine, do talk to your employer / occupational health department. Hopefully, together you can alleviate your concerns.

Other ways to stay well over the winter

Of course, influenza isn’t the only bug that will be doing the rounds this winter. The reality is that very few of us make it to the spring without a cough or cold of some sort. Unless you live as a hermit for the next 6 months you can’t control what germs you come across, but taking a few precautions can boost your chances of staying well:

  • Wash your hands: infection control is even more paramount at this time of year.
  • Pay attention to your nutrition: think of ways to increase your intake of winter ‘super foods, e.g. broccoli, sweet potatoes and porridge. And don’t forget your spices - ginger, turmeric, garlic and cinnamon are all known to have immune-boosting properties. If you don’t have time for extensive meal-planning, think about investing in a smoothie or juice maker to ensure you get your daily dosage of fresh vitamins and nutrients.
  • Keep hydrated: and this doesn’t refer to festive prosecco! Drinking water regularly throughout the day can really help boost energy levels as well as your overall wellbeing.
  • Follow the sunshine: winter can be a dark time, both literally and metaphorically. When you aren’t working, try to get outside. If the sun decides to shine, be spontaneous - household chores can wait! Also, pay attention to foods that are rich in much-needed Vitamin D, e.g. milk, eggs, mushrooms, cod liver oil, and fatty fish.
  • Look for balance: yes, it’s tempting to come home and lie on the sofa all night but try to stay relatively active. Even a few brisk walks can make a difference to your fitness levels and mood. In mid-party season, it can be tempting to burn the candle at both ends. Though you may get away with this once or twice, lack of restorative sleep means that your body will never get the chance to fully recover.
  • Wrap up: no doubt you will be travelling into work in freezing conditions only to be hit by the heat of your centrally heated unit. When outside, layer up and use your journey to plan your summer holiday!

If you do find yourself coughing or sneezing, remember the ‘Catch it. Bin it. Kill it’ public health campaign from a few years ago which is still relevant today. Carry tissues and use them to catch your cough or sneeze. Dispose of your tissue as soon as possible. Clean your hands as soon as you can.

Roll on summertime!