Flu Vaccination Rates Lag Among Health Care Workers in Peru

Two new complementary studies by CDC co-authors show that health care workers in Peru are at higher risk of flu illness but are vaccinated at low rates. Low flu vaccine uptake persists among health care workers in Peru despite flu vaccines being both recommended and free of charge for them. Each year flu causes a large economic and health burden in Peru that results in high rates of hospitalizations and deaths. These findings underscore the importance of increasing flu vaccination uptake among health care workers and suggest that improving flu vaccine education and access could be helpful in accomplishing this goal. These studies are available online at ScienceDirect and the Wiley Online Library, respectively.

While much of CDC’s flu work focuses on reducing the impact of flu in the United States, improving international flu surveillance and reducing the burden of flu globally are other important CDC priorities. That is why CDC conducts studies to understand the impact of flu on priority groups in low- and middle-income countries. Flu vaccination is important for health care workers because it has been proven to protect against flu illness, hospitalization, and death. These two latest CDC studies were conducted among health care workers in Lima, the capital of Peru. One study collected information from health care workers about their knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to flu vaccination from 2011 to 2018. The second study collected data from 2016 to 2019 to calculate the risk of flu among health care workers and how much time they take off work due to flu illness. This second study conducted weekly check-ups to test health care personnel for flu.

Results from the first study found that during the 8-year study period, only 24 percent of health care workers reported regularly getting a flu vaccine. Health care workers commonly reported that they believed their risk of getting flu was low and that flu vaccines were not effective. Other reasons for health care workers not getting vaccinated included the belief that they were not in contact with flu patients or that flu was not spreading in their communities.

Contrary to these beliefs, the second study found that health care workers were at higher risk of getting flu. Notably, approximately 1 in 20 health care workers tested laboratory tested positive for flu  illness by RT-PCR, and 1 in 5 developed flu antibodies that were compatible with possible flu infection without symptoms or with few symptoms of illness.

This high number of flu infections among health care workers contributed to missed workdays, as well as instances of infected workers coming to work when sick. Notably, health care personnel who wore well-fitting masks and goggles when performing procedures that have the potential to spray very small virus particles into the air had a lower risk of acute respiratory illnesses compared to those who did not. These findings reinforce the importance of flu vaccination among health care workers. They also highlight the need for improved workplace education about the benefits of flu vaccination to better protect health care workers and their patients from flu.

Both of these studies have helped to provide useful information that will inform efforts to increase flu vaccination among health care workers in middle-income countries like Peru. By increasing flu vaccination uptake among health care workers, middle-income countries can prevent the spread of flu within health care settings and further protect both health care workers and their patients from flu.