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chocolate and ipads

Chocolate could encourage nurses to get flu vaccine, committee hears

There was a discussion around what is causing a mistrust of vaccines, which have eradicated many diseases in Ireland.

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A HEALTH COMMITTEE has been told that there is a low uptake in the number of healthcare professionals who opt to take the flu vaccine, and rewards could be used to encourage the uptake.

During a discussion on the subject of vaccine uptake in Ireland, the committee heard that there are a number of reasons contributing to a general mistrust of vaccines.

In her opening statement, Dr Colette Bonar, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Health Protection Unit said that ”all vaccines go under review to make sure that they are safe”.

Although the dramatic drop in HPV vaccine uptake has been the topic of some debate in Ireland, with levels dropping to 50% last year, the committee also heard about past issues with the MMR vaccine and problems with the flu vaccine uptake among healthcare professionals.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, the Assistant National Director of Public and Child Health for the HSE said that low rates of flu vaccine uptake is a problem internationally.

A particular problem, which the committee were asked about, is the low rate of uptake on the vaccine among Ireland’s healthcare workers.

Figures provided by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre have suggested that only one in four healthcare staff in Ireland have been vaccinated against the flu.

Kevin Kelleher Oireachtas TV Oireachtas TV

Kelleher mentioned that in North America, it’s mandatory for doctors and nurses to get vaccinated against the flu, for patients’ health and safety.

“There’s a particular problem with nurses uptake with the vaccine, and it could be to do with leadership,” he said.

“Incentives for the institution or individual does seem to work to increase those rates.”

“For example, giving them chocolates, which is advised in medical literature, or iPads [an incentive presumably for hospitals, rather than individuals].”

The General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation reacted angrily to his comments, which he said were ”a perfect example of why Irish nurses and midwives walked away from the Irish health sector”.

Doran told Today with Sean O’Rourke that that kind of comment was ‘absolutely objectionable’ and Kelleher should respect nurses’ opinions and not treat them like children.

Vaccine effect

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During the committee, frequent reference was made to Dr Karina Butler’s opening statement. She is the chairperson with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, and a practicing paediatrician.

“Vaccines work, vaccines save lives. You’ve heard the numbers and they’re dramatic,” she said, but stressed that the individual stories behind the numbers were even stronger.

“In the 1940s, my uncle died of diphtheria when he was 4 years old. Shortly after, my grandfather died of oropharyngeal cancer, which is preventable now most likely.

She said that during a polio epidemic in the 60s, she remembers being in a ward Capa hospital  full of children in wheelchairs.

“In the 1960s, people were getting measles and mumps but we were the lucky ones cause we were covered. Others now have lung problems and have lost their sight.”

Now, when I see my two-year-old grandchild, because of all these vaccines I don’t have to worry about him getting those diseases anymore.
This week I left the bedside of a two-year-old who is fighting for his life against meningitis. This is the real impact of vaccinations.

She said that although there is no medicine or therapy that is 100% safe for every person, the benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh the risks.

“We would not give vaccines if we did not truly believe they were safe.”


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When questioning the experts before the health committee today, Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher said that he had been told ‘girls decide as they’re waiting to get vaccinated in school that as a group, they’re not going ahead with it’.

Dr Brenda Corcoran, Consultant in Public Medical Care at the National Immunisation Office said that the fact that doctors and experts don’t get to meet with parents and explain the vaccine to them, could be contributing to the misinformation and mistrust.

Dr Joan Gilvarry, Director of Human Products at the Irish Medicines Board said that 72 million people had been vaccinated against HPV worldwide, so there was a vast amount of knowledge on the vaccine.

She explained why two countries, Denmark and Japan, reported problems with the vaccine.

She said that symptoms of chronic pain, and chronic fatigue were reported in Denmark, so the EU’s health commission conducted a Europe-wide review. The committee had representation from all European states, and they spoke to health and safety experts and patient groups.

They made a legally binding decision that there was no causal relationship with this, and Denmark continues to use it now, she said.

In Japan, the HPV vaccine was taken out of programme but Gilvarry stressed that this was not in agreement with their regulatory authority.

The Irish Cancer Society estimates that the dramatic drop off on the HPV vaccine uptake in Ireland for the 2015/2016 academic year will result in the death of at least 40 girls due to cervical cancer, and that a further 1,000 girls will have to undergo invasive therapy to prevent the pre-cancer form of HPV.

Read: ‘Women will die needlessly’: Call for push to increase uptake of HPV vaccine

Read: ‘If you want to give medical advice on vaccinations, become a doctor. If not, get out of the way’

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