published : 2023-11-16

COVID and flu vaccine rates declining for US healthcare workers, CDC reports: 'Disturbing trend'

Medical workers have a 'higher duty' to get vaccinated, says doctor

A healthcare worker administering a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient, taken with a Nikon D850

Fewer U.S. healthcare workers are keeping up to date on their COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, according to two separate reports this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The first study analyzed data from the CDC's National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) for January to June 2023.

It revealed that flu vaccine coverage was 81% among healthcare employees at hospitals and 47.1% at nursing homes.

In terms of COVID vaccine coverage for medical workers, it was only 7.2% at hospitals and 22.8% at nursing homes.

The definition of 'up-to-date' vaccination for COVID was receiving a bivalent COVID-19 mRNA vaccine dose or completing a primary series within the preceding two months.

The CDC study authors emphasized the need for evidence-based strategies to improve vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel.

Tailored strategies could be useful in reaching all healthcare personnel with recommended vaccines and protecting both them and their patients from vaccine-preventable respiratory diseases.

In a second study, researchers analyzed the same data to determine the level of flu vaccination among healthcare personnel.

Dr. Marc Siegel discussing vaccine hesitancy during a news interview, taken with a Canon EOS R5

Flu vaccine coverage had been rising prior to the COVID pandemic, from 88.6% in 2017-2018 to 90.7% in 2019-2020.

However, it declined to 85.9% in the 2020-2021 season and further dropped to 81.1% in 2022-2023.

The CDC researchers expressed concern about the recent declines in influenza vaccination coverage and emphasized the need for additional efforts to increase vaccination coverage among healthcare personnel.

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a medical contributor for a major news network, described the trend as 'disturbing' upon reviewing the CDC data.

He attributed the lower vaccination rates to fear and politicization of vaccine misunderstandings.

Dr. Siegel clarified that both COVID and flu vaccines are safe and effective, reducing the severity of the diseases more than their spread.

Considering the COVID vaccines, he mentioned the possibility of a longer 'carryover effect' from previous vaccines or recent infections, which might explain the lower uptake among healthcare workers who are not in high-risk groups or elderly.

However, Dr. Siegel stressed that all personnel without contraindications to individual vaccines should be vaccinated.

A healthcare facility offering flu vaccinations to its staff, taken with a Sony A7 III

Dr. Joseph P. Iser, retired chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District, shared his opinion on the findings, stating that the coverage rates are much lower than they should be.

He attributed non-compliance primarily to fear and politicization, along with misunderstandings about vaccines.

Dr. Iser emphasized that healthcare workers have a 'higher duty' to be vaccinated against diseases they can contract from or transmit to their patients.

He noted that where vaccines are mandated, clinical personnel usually comply, but there is room for improvement among administrative personnel.

Barriers to vaccinations include insurance, access to care, and time constraints.

Dr. Iser suggested that hospitals and long-term care facilities should make vaccinations required and easily accessible for their employees.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends annual flu vaccinations and up-to-date COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone aged 6 months and older.