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flu shots for EMTs

Study Examines Flu Vaccination Rates, Attitudes Among St. Louis EMTs

More than 25 percent of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the St. Louis area neglected to receive flu shots, with some reporting they were unconvinced the flu vaccination is safe or that the flu is a serious, potentially deadly disease.

Get your flu shot. Get your flu shot. Get your flu shot. We’re deep into the “flu shot reminder” season, with health care professionals quick to explain the benefits and protection provided by flu vaccination. A recent study found, however, that more than one-quarter of St. Louis-area emergency medical technicians (EMTs) neglect to get their own vaccinations.

Influenza causes millions of cases of illness each year, and results in thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, researchers said.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all health care personnel, including EMTs, receive the seasonal influenza vaccine every year," said Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., associate professor at the Institute for Biosecurity at St. Louis University (SLU) and co-investigator of the study. "There is a lot of evidence that indicates that vaccinating health care professionals protects workers and patients from influenza-related morbidity and mortality, and reduces sick leave."

The study, conducted by St. Louis University and funded by the Saint Louis County Department of Health, surveyed 265 St. Louis EMTs to gauge seasonal and H1N1 influenza vaccine compliance and whether EMTs planned to get vaccinated.

The study also measured the attitudes and beliefs of EMTs about the seasonal influenza vaccine and found:

  • Sixty percent of EMTs who did not get vaccinated said they do not trust the public health authorities when they say the influenza vaccine is safe.
  • Roughly one-third who did not get vaccinated said that flu vaccine has a lot of side effects and reported being afraid of them.
  • More than half of the non-vaccinated group also said they do not believe they can play a role in transmitting influenza to their patients if they are not vaccinated.
  • One-fourth of all surveyed EMTs said they do not believe that influenza is a serious disease that can cause death. This belief was higher among those who did not get vaccinated.

"It's a concern that so many EMTs who are educated in health care do not believe that the public health message regarding influenza vaccine safety and efficacy is reliable," said Kate Wright, Ed.D, MPH, associate professor of health management and policy and director of Heartland Centers at SLU, and co-investigator of the study.

To increase the rate of flu vaccination among EMTs, Rebmann and Wright suggest that health care agencies should implement a mandatory vaccination policy and initiate an education campaign to communicate information about vaccine safety and effectiveness to ETMs.

"Vaccination is critical," said Rebmann, who stressed that the seasonal influenza vaccine is safe and effective, with very few side effects. "Getting vaccinated not only protects the worker, but also his or her patients and family members."

The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

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