Flu Vaccine Alarmingly Lacking Among EMS Workers

Emergency medical service workers can act as vectors of seasonal influenza due to their close contact with 22 million patients annually.

Emergency medical service (EMS) workers can act as vectors of seasonal influenza due to their close contact with 22 million patients annually.

Healthy People 2020 set a seasonal influenza vaccination uptake goal of 90%. In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee have written guidelines to encourage health care workers to get vaccinated.

But these calls to action sometimes go ignored by EMS workers. Even though they are potent flu transmitters, only 50% of EMS workers are vaccinated, making them the group of health care workers that is least likely to be immunized.

Researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center and Saint Louis University recently published a study that used a modified theory of planned behavior model to explore lower seasonal influenza vaccination uptake among EMS workers.

The study found that privately employed EMS workers considered alternative infection prevention measures (environmental cleaning, use of personal protective equipment, and hand hygiene) to be more important than the flu vaccine.

EMS workers also expressed inconvenience (time and cost), the belief that the vaccine was ineffective if they become sick, and a lack of employer requirement as reasons to not receive seasonal influenza vaccination.

In addition, EMS workers considered their personal medical history and encouragement from family, friends, co-workers, and patients to be crucial factors in their decision on whether to receive the flu vaccine.

The study demonstrated that EMS workers tend to believe seasonal influenza vaccination should be driven by their personal beliefs, rather than employer encouragement.

These findings may not be generalizable to EMS workers in the public sector or those with dual firefighter/EMS roles, the researchers noted.

The decision to be immunized is complex. The researchers indicated that it is critical to structure messages to emphasize the importance of receiving the flu vaccine.

They called for further research into the sources of personal belief related to seasonal influenza vaccination.

This study appeared online in the Journal of Community Health in December 2015.