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At a meeting of the HSE’s National Flu Planning Steering Group on 26 April, it was noted that Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director for Public and Child Health, would meet with National Director of Human Resources, Ms Rosarii Mannion, and other HSE officials “in relation to flu vaccination uptake among HCWs” and “the possibility of mandatory vaccination in the future”. The minutes of the steering group meeting have been seen by the Medical Independent (MI) following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.
Under the same FoI request, MI has also seen emails between Dr Kelleher and other senior HSE officials, where the intention to discuss the issue of mandatory vaccination with the medical unions in the future is mentioned, as well as the international experience of mandatory vaccination in Australia and Finland.
Asked about this issue, the HSE said: “As mandatory flu vaccination is a policy issue, you will need to direct these queries to the Department of Health Press Office.”
The Department’s spokesperson said “there are no plans to introduce mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers”.
“Uptake of seasonal influenza vaccine among staff working in the health services last year was at the highest ever levels,” according to the spokesperson.
“As recently stated by the interim head of the HSE National Immunisation Office, ‘influenza vaccine in Ireland among healthcare workers now compares favourably with other countries in Europe where traditionally uptake has been low’.”
The IMO has previously said it strongly supports the flu vaccination for HCWs, but it has “serious reservations” about mandatory vaccination.
There was a significant uptake in flu vaccination among HCWs in the last flu season. A Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) report from September 2018 noted that in 2017-2018, influenza vaccine uptake for all HCWs in the 49 [HSE] hospitals was 44.8 per cent, up from 34.0 per cent. The increase “was statistically significant”, according to the HPSC.
Last month, the RCPI called for the flu vaccine to be made mandatory for healthcare professionals who work in high-risk areas, such as intensive care, cancer wards and emergency departments.