A champion for influenza immunization in the United Kingdom

Dan Bowen is a former staff nurse at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in the United Kingdom, and he’s a champion for influenza vaccination among health care workers. He shares his thoughts about why it is so important for health workers to protect themselves, and their patients, against influenza by getting the flu vaccine.

Why do think health care workers should be vaccinated against influenza every year?

In my experience in paediatric critical care, the flu virus can be transmitted to a hospitalized at-risk patient. The importance and risk of the flu virus and its damaging effects should not be minimized or forgotten, no matter how mild the effects of the seasonal flu virus may seem. It could always get worse.

What activities have you implemented to boost vaccination coverage among staff at the hospital?

We used to have a traditional flu "jab" clinic in the Occupational Health clinic. Uptake was generally between 30-35%.  Our updated strategy for influenza vaccination meant that the responsibility for immunization extended far beyond Occupational Health – it was ALL our responsibility! The flu immunization campaign saw us train "peer vaccinators" on various wards and across all areas.  This meant that there was greatly increased awareness beyond the reach of Occupational Health and the campaign became a well-known initiative.

What were the most important factors for increasing vaccination uptake among health care workers in your hospital?

There were many factors involved in improving uptake among health care workers at the hospital. These included:

  1. Any time, any place, any day vaccinations: Increasing immunization rates, especially in acute hospitals, cannot be achieved through set time and date occupational health appointments! Acute staff cannot always afford the time to get off shift to attend a clinic – even if they are motivated to do so.  The immunization must be offered on their ward.
  2. Putting a face on” the campaign:  Life-size cardboard cutouts were made to promote the flu protection message around the hospital, and posters of me actually immunizing the Chief Executive Officer were made publicly available to encourage people to get the flu jab.  
  3. Sharing the right message: One of the most important strategies was that of communications. We needed to remind health care workers that the flu virus could kill vulnerable patients and that many of our codes of conduct instruct us to "put patients first".  It is arguably our responsibility and duty as accountable professionals to protect the public by protecting ourselves in every way possible against any threat – including the influenza virus.

Did you notice a fall in absenteeism among staff when influenza vaccination coverage increased?

Yes, there was a noticeable fall in sickness absence due to declarations of flu.

How can other health facilities learn from your experience and what can they do to increase uptake of influenza vaccine among staff?

The key point is to think "outside the box".  Many hospitals still look at Occupational Health clinics as the primary way to increase flu immunization uptake.  I think it is important to take an objective look at demand – can acute staff really afford the time to attend a clinic, even if they are motivated to do so?  Are they more inclined to accept a flu immunization if it is available in their immediate clinical area from a peer vaccinator, rather than an Occupational Health nurse they do not know? Making the vaccine available "anytime" is also key.