Councils have been urged to get social care workers vaccinated against flu to prevent avoidable infection of older and disabled adults.
The call came in a letter from government health officials to local government and NHS leaders designed to boost vaccination rates among frontline health and social care staff for the winter of 2014-15.
High vaccination rates among social care staff are important because they come into regular contact with people who are at particular risk from the impact of flu because of weak immune systems. Vaccination is also seen as being important to reduce sickness absence during the pressured winter months in the health and social care system.
Last year, 55% of health and social care staff were vaccinated, and while this was an increase on the 46% recorded in 2012-13, it is below the government’s target of 75%.
“This means that almost half of frontline health and social care workers were unvaccinated and this leads to avoidable risk of infection to our patients,” said the letter from officials at the Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England. “The impact of flu on frail and vulnerable patients can be fatal and outbreaks of the virus can cause severe disruption in communities, care homes and hospitals.”
The letter also stressed that the vaccine was safe and effective, and taking it would enable social care staff to act as role models for colleagues and for service users for whom vaccination would also be important.
Councils are under a duty to ensure that frontline social care workers are offered the flu vaccine and encouraged to take it up. However, while NHS staff can generally obtain free immunisation against the flu, this is often not open to social care staff in the independent sector, which could reduce vaccination rates, warned a report last year from the International Longevity Centre-UK.