The study results, published in the British Medical Journal today, echo the findings from a survey of 1,500 nurses in Britain where 30 per cent said they would refuse new vaccines against the H1N1 swine flu for safety reasons.
“With the reported low level of willingness to accept pre-pandemic vaccination in this study, future work on intervention to increase vaccination uptake is warranted,” wrote the researchers, led by Paul Chan, a microbiology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“A campaign to encourage vaccination among healthcare workers should be introduced,” they added.
The South China Morning Post, citing the local health department, reported on August 17 the number of swine flu cases had risen to 7,071.
The study consisted of two surveys involving 2,255 doctors, nurses and other health workers in public hospitals in Hong Kong.
The first, conducted between January and March 2009 when the World Health Organisation’s flu pandemic alert was at phase 3, showed just over 28 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to be vaccinated against the H5N1 bird flu virus.
The second, undertaken in May 2009 when the WHO raised its alert level to 5 because of swine flu, found only 47.9 per cent of those surveyed would be vaccinated against H1N1.
“The most common reason for refusal was ‘worry about side effects’ and other reasons included ‘query on the efficacy of the vaccine’, ‘not yet the right time to be vaccinated’ and ‘simply did not want the vaccine’,” the researchers wrote.
Those who said they would opt for swine flu vaccination tended to be young, had had the seasonal flu vaccine in 2008-2009 and feared they were vulnerable to H1N1.
Malik Peiris, microbiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, who is not connected with the study, said the surveys gave an insight into public perception, but he warned such views could alter rapidly.
“In Hong Kong, if you have one death in a healthcare worker, you will have a change in perception,” he said.
“Protection of oneself is important and particularly when it comes to healthcare workers who are more (at risk) than the general public because they come into contact with sick people.”
Robert Dingwall, director of the Institute for Science and Society at University of Nottingham, cautioned against taking the findings too seriously. He was not linked to the study.
“Real decisions will be made in a future context where health professionals have better information about the safety of the vaccine and opportunities to reflect on their responsibilities towards their patients and the functioning of major social institutions,” he said. — Reuters