Doctors don’t heed to their H1N1 vaccination advice

Mumbai: As swine flu changes into a round-the-year-infection, doctors are advising people, especially those with low immunity, to get vaccinated. But when it comes to themselves, physicians avoid doing so, as not enough is known about the adverse effects of this vaccine.

A study conducted among 800 doctors (faculty and resident doctors) at the civic-run SETH GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, Parel, reveals, only 30 per cent of the physicians opt for vaccination as a precautionary measure against the illness, with the majority of them choosing to rely on masks and hand-washing. But almost half of them fail to even observe the latter precautionary measures, leaving themselves exposed to the possibility of contracting the infection.

In a study conducted among 272 physicians, including faculty and resident doctors, at KEM hospital, about 76.96 per cent of non-vaccinated physicians were not interested in getting annual vaccinations. Only 3.3 per cent of physicians believed that the medicos should be vaccinated, to ensure continuity of health services. The study has been published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion.

Health experts say there has been a tremendous antigenic shift in the H1N1 strain, which has led the seasonal influenza metamorphosing into an annual phenomenon. Earlier, swine flu cases were reported between June and August, the monsoon season, as it provides a suitable environment for the virus to thrive, but now, every month there is a case of H1N1. This makes it all the more essential for physicians in hospitals, especially in tertiary hospitals, to be vaccinated as per the instructions of WHO, according to the researchers who conducted the study.

“As per the study, this yearly vaccination process makes physicians uncomfortable, as they believe the antigenic shift may have also affected the vaccine compliance. Almost 97 per cent of the respondents said they were concerned about the efficacy of vaccination, due to ‘the duration of protection offered by the vaccine’,” said the authors of the study.

Barsha Pathak Gadapani, department of community medicine, KEM hospital, who was part of the study, said swine flu is a strain of several viruses, so, even if a person with strong immunity develops resistance to two of them, without vaccination, there is a chance that they might get infected with the third one. “With repeated vaccination, doctors do not develop any resistance to the vaccine, so it is a completely wrong belief among resident doctors,” she said.

Adverse effects of the vaccination also discourages physicians from getting inoculated and this is so especially among the resident doctors aged below 30. “The new vaccines that are available are extremely safe. In fact, pregnant women also get the vaccines and we have not received any reports of adverse effects,” said Dr Gadapani.