Nurses and doctors without flu vaccine 'should wear masks'
'Give patients choice to refuse care from non-vaccinated docs'
Hospital doctors and nurses who are not vaccinated against the flu should wear masks and inform their patients, said a medical expert.
Professor Sam McConkey said all healthcare workers have a duty of care to patients to get vaccinated as the flu season approaches this winter.
When flu is rampant, they should take precautions.
"Maybe they should be wearing masks and gloves if they are not vaccinated. They should be telling their patients that they are not vaccinated and why, so that patients can choose not to engage with them," he said.
Prof McConkey is head of the Department of International Health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and he is a consultant at Beaumont Hospital.
While there is a low level of flu circulating at this stage, flu rates traditionally rise around the end of December and early January.
"I would strongly encourage people to get vaccinated. All healthcare workers who are coming into contact with sick people should be vaccinated. And, obviously, if someone is not vaccinated, they should not be touching patients," he said.
While vaccination rates for healthcare workers had improved quite a lot in recent years, he said they were still "abysmally low" and he would like to see their vaccination rates increase to 85pc to 90pc.
There is a significant increase in mortality among very elderly people during the flu season each winter.
"Sometimes a person could get a flu and then die of a heart attack or they could get flu and die of what appears to be pneumonia," he said.
He said the overcrowding in the Irish hospital system posed a danger regarding influenza infection.
"We've got overcrowding in our hospitals which is not good for privacy or personal respect, and it's not good for transmission of flu and other infections," he said.
Big wards in Irish hospitals were not good for prevention of disease transmission. New hospitals are normally built with single rooms.
Prof McConkey said he was involved in research for new vaccines and said researchers were currently seeking a universal flu vaccine which would give protection against all strains of flu over a period of several years.
Several pharmaceutical companies were involved in the search. He believes a few candidate vaccines will be used in human trials although the process can take several years.
HSE public health specialist Dr Kevin Kelleher said vaccination rates among healthcare workers improved dramatically in the last couple of years.
"In our acute hospitals, we reached 44pc vaccination rates in the flu season last year, 2017-18, among all health workers," he said.
"Most of the hospitals were reporting a better uptake than this time last year. Some hospitals were over 50pc. The actual target is 75pc but we have moved dramatically in the last two years from 20pc to 44pc. We're moving up to even 50pc this year."