“We have heard from public health experts and health care workers – and now we see how strongly the public feels about their health care workers getting vaccinated against H1N1 flu,” says Matthew Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the poll and associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan Medical School. “The public clearly expects health care workers to lead by example.”
As H1N1 influenza vaccine begins to be shipped across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized getting the first doses to high-priority groups such as health care workers.
The poll also finds that, even among health care workers, there are misconceptions about vaccination and treatment for both seasonal and H1N1 flu.
Results show health care workers were more likely than other adults polled to say they would not get vaccinated against H1N1 flu because there are medications to treat H1N1 illness, and because they plan to get the seasonal flu vaccine and therefore believe they would not need the H1N1 flu vaccine.
“The belief that seasonal flu vaccine will protect against H1N1 is a misconception. The seasonal flu vaccine and H1N1 flu vaccine protect against different viruses. You need to get vaccinated against both to be protected against both,” said Davis. “In addition, relying on medications to treat H1N1 flu is a gamble, especially since there have been isolated cases of resistance to the most commonly used drug, and there may not be adequate supplies of medication to treat all who get sick. That means vaccination is likely our best choice for controlling H1N1 flu.”
Because health care workers do not have a strong track record of vaccination against seasonal flu, hospital directors and in some cases public health officials (for example, New York State) have decided to mandate H1N1 flu vaccination for health care workers. There has been vocal opposition to this idea from some health care worker groups.
“The public expects health care workers to be vaccinated against H1N1 flu – whether that occurs through voluntary efforts or mandates,” says Davis, who is also professor of public policy at the U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “No one can be sure about how severe H1N1 flu will be and how many lives it will affect. But the public is relying on health care workers to be prepared – not just with hand-washing and masks, but with the vaccine that will soon be available.”
The poll surveyed 2,365 adults across the United States from Aug. 13-31, 2009.