Monday, 27 Apr 2020 THE STAR ON LINE
PETALING JAYA: Medical experts have voiced concerns that some healthcare workers have probably been left unprotected against influenza, to the detriment of the healthcare system, their families, and even themselves.
According to them, the fight against the viral infection must always be on Malaysia’s radar as the disease in present throughout the year.
Consultant respiratory physician Prof Dr Roslina Manap said that having healthcare workers contracting influenza would mean that fewer of them would be available for work.
There is also the possibility of them spreading it to patients.
What is clear, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), is that these healthcare workers are at higher risk of influenza infection than the general population.
In a manual on vaccination, it said: “In addition to morbidity among health workers, influenza infection may also lead to increased absenteeism, presenteeism and disruption of medical services.
“Moreover, influenza infected health workers may contribute to hospital-acquired transmission of infection to their patients, including those at high risk for developing severe influenza disease and complications.
“Hence, WHO considers healthcare workers to be a priority target group for seasonal influenza vaccination. In addition, influenza vaccination of health workers contributes to influenza pandemic preparedness.”
Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh (pic), president of the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia, confirmed that while the Health Ministry did not make it compulsory for everyone who came into clinical contact with patients in the private healthcare setting to get influenza vaccinations, most private hospitals do provide the vaccine to their clinical frontliners.
“For those not considered frontliners, some hospitals, depending on their respective policies, may provide subsided vaccination, ” he said.
Influenza vaccination has to be taken yearly as influenza viruses are known to mutate, hence potentially rendering existing vaccines impotent if they are not refreshed to keep up with changes.
As influenza vaccine is not a price-controlled product, its market price in the private setting can vary from RM50 to RM100, depending on the strains covered in the vaccine.
The Healthy Ministry did not elaborate on whether influenza vaccination is compulsory for its frontline staff, though sources say that “such vaccinations are offered annually”.
Dr Roslina pointed out that for university hospitals, it is more of a case of “it is recommended, but not obligatory”.
“For example, in my hospital, when the mobile vaccination unit made its rounds, uptake from staff was higher (versus just making an announcement telling staff to go to the clinic to get vaccinated), ” she said, adding that awareness among staff remains low, even if university and teaching hospitals would have already budgeted for such vaccines.
Given the speed in which Covid-19 hit the region, including Malaysia, there are questions whether medical frontliners in the public sector are adequately protected this season, since the stock for urgent replenishment only came in late January.
The ministry did not respond to The Star on this at press time. What is only known now is that the supply of influenza vaccines in the market has now stabilised, with doses readily available in most clinics.
Doctors say influenza vaccination if definitely worth the cost, even when it does not give total protection.
“There is a side benefit to having healthcare workers getting immunised against influenza.
“If the individual presents symptoms, then it is easier and quicker to rule out influenza as the cause – and maybe the individual can be tested for Covid-19 right away, ” said Dr Roslina, who is involved in health education activities and is a member of several expert panels and advisory boards on the management of lung diseases.
Other than being a past president of the Malaysian Thoracic Society, Dr Roslina previously chaired the subspecialty committee for respiratory medicine of the National Specialist Register of Malaysia.