Staff at Homerton hospital are ‘queuing up’ to receive the new swine flu vaccine despite news last week that the majority of medics were planning to avoid the drug out of concerns over its safety.
Last week, national surveys suggesting that 48% of nurses and 60% of GPs were opposed to the jab fuelled fears amongst health authorities that unimmunised staff might pass the life-threatening virus on to their patients.
Yet if the length of the line outside Homerton Hospital’s vaccination unit is any measure of how popular the vaccine will be over the coming weeks, they needn’t be too worried.
Homerton Medical director Dr John Coakley was the first to receive one of the 1,500 doses of vaccine being made available for those working in such key areas as the accident and emergency department and intensive care unit last week.
Since then more than quarter of frontline staff have been immunised against the disease, which has killed 137 people nationally since its inception in 2008.
“The level of demand has been very, very positive’, a hospital representative said. ‘We are pleasantly surprised. At the moment it is more likely that we will run out of vaccine sooner than expected [more is on the way] than it is we’ll have loads left over.”
He wasn’t the only one surprised at the turnout. Nursing Times, who carried out the survey, said they too were interested in the way perceptions of the vaccine were changing amongst nurses and doctors. Nursing Times’ news editor, Steve Ford said:
“A few weeks ago people were getting more and more negative – yet now that the pandemic is showing signs of worsening and the illness is being perceived as very serious, perhaps people are having a change of heart.”
This seems to be particularly pertinent in the East London area, where rates of swine flu cases are higher than anywhere else in the country.
‘Doctors and nurses are realising that this is not just about them, it’s about protecting their patients and protecting their families’, a spokesperson for Homerton Vaccination Service confirmed.
His views echo those of the trade union Unison, the Royal College of Nursing, and of the Department of Health who last Thursday issued leaflets telling frontline nurses that that getting vaccinated against swine flu is the ‘single most important thing’ they can do to help the NHS ‘stay ahead of the game this winter’.
Vaccinations have long been a source of conflict, both for medical practitioners and for campaigners like People’s United Community who last week staged a coordinated protest outside Birmingham’s main hospitals.
Those who question the H1N1 vaccine say there has not been enough time in which to sufficiently test the drug for potential side effects.
Another popular response to the Nursing Times survey was that staff ‘do not consider the risk posed by the virus to be great enough to justify the vaccination’.
At one point hospital chief executives were predicting less than 20% of staff would opt to have the jab. But at Homerton at least, the government’s urgent vaccination programme seems to be on the road to recovery.
For more information on seasonal flu jabs, click on the link to the NHS website.