Uptake of the seasonal influenza vaccine amongst midwives in London could be improved according to a study presented earlier this week at the Health Protection Agency's annual conference.

The survey carried out between June and August 2011 - received 266 responses, with 43% of those surveyed choosing to have the vaccine. This is slightly better than healthcare workers in general in London - with an uptake rate of 36% (winter season 2011/12) - but still a large proportion remain unvaccinated.

Dr David Ishola, a consultant at the HPA and lead author of the study, said: "Pregnant women are now routinely offered the seasonal flu vaccine in the UK and midwives are in an important position to advise and encourage them. With the general uptake of flu vaccine among healthcare workers needing further improvement, and a lack of information on the attitudes of midwives specifically, our survey aimed to uncover any barriers to midwives having the vaccine themselves and recommending it to the pregnant women they care for."

Midwives were invited by email to complete an anonymous online survey. The responses given found that 69% of midwives welcomed the policy to vaccinate all pregnant women and 76% agreed that midwives should routinely advise pregnant women on vaccination. The major reasons for midwives declining the flu vaccine were doubts about the necessity of vaccination (34%); vaccine safety (25%); vaccine effectiveness (10%); and poor arrangements in the workplace for midwives to be vaccinated (11%).

Dr Sarah Anderson, an epidemiologist for the HPA in London and study co-author, said: "The seasonal flu vaccine protects healthcare workers, reduces absenteeism, improves outcomes for patients and reduces deaths. It is positive news that the majority of midwives we surveyed supported the policy of vaccinating all pregnant women, however many felt inadequately prepared to do so and had reservations about their role in implementing it.

"We asked midwives what they felt would boost their own uptake of the flu vaccine and suggestions included better access to evidence on the benefits of vaccination, its effectiveness and safety, and improved arrangements for having the vaccine at work. The insights provided in this survey can help shape local NHS services and support the planning and delivery of the flu vaccine in London."

Dr Ishola concluded: "Our recommendations for employers would be to establish effective publicity to promote having the flu vaccine at work and making it available at more convenient times and places. There is a need for clear and appropriate information to be made available to midwives, with transparent guidelines, evidence and direction, in addition to adequate training."

Posted by Penny Hosie