Some NHS staff are refusing to get the flu jab because they wrongly believe it will make them ill, England’s top nurse has warned.
Professor Jane Cummings said ‘myths’ persist around the vaccine, including among doctors and nurses, with the ‘big one’ being it gives people flu.
It comes just days after all NHS staff were told to get the jab or risk being banned from treating vulnerable patients this winter.
Officials hope to achieve ‘near universal’ coverage of frontline staff this year to help protect patients after only about two-thirds received the jab last winter.
‘It’s really important we make it as easy as possible for staff and we give them the full facts,’ Professor Cummings said.
‘Anything up to 50 per cent of staff may have the flu virus but be asymptomatic. They may not feel ill, they may not be aware that they are.
‘Of course, all of us as clinicians have a duty of care to our patients, so we are actually working really hard with staff this year to have the vaccine.’
The flu vaccine does not contain any live viruses and cannot cause flu, though some people may experience a slight temperature and aching muscles afterwards.
Professor Cummings stressed that those turning down the vaccine because of this misconception were unlikely to be doctors and nurses.
It comes after health bosses last week said they are considering moving medics who don’t have the vaccine to different departments in order to protect vulnerable patients.
A measure was introduced last year meaning staff would have to explain why they refused the vaccine, and now they face being moved to a different department.
Patients in cancer care, those with blood disorders, and babies in neonatal intensive care are all usually high-risk and may be shielded from the unvaccinated workers.
The NHS’s plan has been revealed after chiefs yesterday warned this year’s flu vaccine will not protect over-65s from a deadly Japanese strain of the virus.
A letter to hospital trusts from NHS England and NHS Improvement suggests the health service is concerned about the effect of flu this winter.
Last year saw the worst flu season in seven years and 68.7 per cent of all NHS staff had the vaccination – up from 53 per cent in 2014-15.
The numbers of staff having the flu jab varies across different hospital trusts, with some areas having 90 per cent of staff immunised but others only managing 20 to 30 per cent.
In a letter to staff, NHS bosses said: ‘Our ambition is for 100 per cent of healthcare workers with direct patient contact to be vaccinated.
‘In hospital departments where patients have a lower immunity and are most at risk of flu, it may be appropriate for healthcare workers who choose not to be vaccinated to be redeployed to other areas where this promotes patient safety.’
More than 15,000 excessive deaths were attributable to flu last season, figures show.
This year, a newly-available adjuvanted vaccine will be offered to those over the age of 65, protecting against three strains of flu.
The jab could reduce GP consultations by 30,000, hospitalisations by more than 2,000 and prevent more than 700 hospital deaths from flu in England, according to analysis by PHE.
The quadrivalent vaccine, protecting against four strains, will be offered to all eligible adults under the age of 65, including pregnant women and those with long-term health conditions.
The programme has been extended this year, with children in Year Five now offered the vaccine, along with children in Reception to Year Four.
The vaccine will eventually be offered to all primary school-aged children.
Social workers and frontline healthcare workers are also eligible to receive the vaccine for free.
Professor Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, said: ‘Flu is potentially a very serious illness, and we know adults over 65 are more likely to catch and have complications from flu so have the most to gain from an improved vaccine.
‘By introducing an enhanced flu vaccine for this age group they will be better protected as well as helping to reduce the spread of flu to those around them.
‘Further protection will be gained by offering flu vaccine to more children this year and giving a vaccine that provides protection against four strains of flu to all eligible people under the age of 65.
‘We encourage everyone who is eligible to get the flu vaccine from their general practice or pharmacy before the end of November.’
The flu vaccine, which will be offered to 24 million people this year, will be available from early October.
Although it is a common infection and most people can recover quickly, flu can be deadly for those with weaker immune systems like old people, babies and people with long-term medical conditions.