Why HCWs get the flu vaccine — or don't

Almost three in four (71%) of hospital-based health care workers received their flu vaccine last year, showing a sustained commitment to vaccination even after the pandemic subsided, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 13% of health care workers reported being required to have the vaccine as a condition of employment. That was a slight increase from the 2009-2010 season when 11% of health care workers reported having a flu vaccine mandate.

For those without mandatory policies, convenience was the greatest determinant of vaccination. Health care workers were more likely to have the vaccine if they the vaccine was offered onsite, if they received a personal reminder to be vaccinated, and if the vaccine was offered for more than one day and at no cost, the survey found.

"Making vaccination convenient for health-care personnel is a key strategy for raising vaccination rates," says Carolyn Bridges, MD, associate director for adult immunization in CDC's Immunization Services Division.

When health care workers were offered the vaccine at their workplace, 66% received it, compared with a 38.5% vaccination rate when the vaccine wasn't offered at the workplace. This has implications for home health services, notes Carla Black, PhD, a CDC epidemiologist who helped coordinate the survey, which was conducted by the RAND Corp. of Santa Monica, CA. Only about half (53.6%) of home health workers received the flu vaccine last year, according to the survey.

"The settings that have the highest coverage are those that have vaccine more available," says Black. "And those who work in, say, home health-care who don't go to an office every day [and] have to get vaccine on their own have lower coverage [rates]."

Unvaccinated health care workers were less likely to believe that they or "people around [them]" were at risk of getting influenza. They also may question the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Only 54% of unvaccinated workers said they believe "influenza vaccination can protect me from getting influenza" and only 44.6% agreed that "if I get an influenza vaccination, people around me will be better protected from influenza."