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Rachael Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and Medical Economics.
Although a late flu shot is better than none, a new study out of Mexico reveals that healthcare workers who received early flu shots lost less time at work.
Healthcare workers can set an example for their patients, but forced influenza vaccinations in hospitals have been met with some resistance over the years.
A new study from Mexico, however, shows that early vaccination of healthcare workers is, in fact, beneficial in preventing infection of influenza and transmission from healthcare workers to their colleagues and patients.
“The earlier in the flu season a health care worker gets vaccinated against influenza the lower the chances that he or she develops influenza and influenza-like syndrome, thus there is a subsequent reduction in the number of days lost from work and leave of absence,” lead researcher Adrian Camacho-Ortiz, MD, PhD, of the University Hospital Dr. Jose Eleuterio Gonzalez in Mexico told Medical Economics. “Additionally there is a lower chance for transmission from healthcare worker to other healthcare workers and patients."
The study followed more than 6,000 healthcare workers at a teaching hospital in Mexico, where influenza vaccination is not mandated for healthcare workers.
During the first studied flu season in 2013-14, 23% of healthcare workers were voluntarily vaccinated by early November-two months into the start of flu season. The following year, 56% of healthcare workers were vaccinated by early November.
In comparing the level of illness between the two seasons, researchers found that there were 52 leaves of absence among healthcare workers in the first year compared to 15 in the second year, translating to 218 missed days of work in the first year compared to 68 in the second year. The study also revealed that 49 vaccinated workers experienced flu-like symptoms in the first year compared to 24 in the second year when vaccination occurred earlier.
The study could have implications in the U.S., where influenza vaccination is not mandatory but strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC). According to CDC, about 75% of healthcare workers were inoculated for influenza in the 2013-14 season.
“This study demonstrates that vaccination before the beginning of the influenza season has an association with a reduction in influenza-like illness, leave of absence, and days of lost work,” says Camacho-Ortiz.
According to the CDC, fewer than half of children and adult in the U.S. were vaccinated early in the flu season this year-just 39% of adults.
CDC says recommendations from healthcare providers play an important role in the decision to get vaccinated against influenza, and 47.9% of adults receive their vaccinations in a medical office compared to 24.8% that visit retail settings and 18% that receive vaccinations in their workplace.