Steffie Woolhandler, Harvard Medical School associate professor of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles analyzed data from the 2000 National Health Interview Survey and found that less than half of U.S. health care workers get flu shots.
From a nationally representative sample of 1,651 workers, the overall vaccination rate was only 38 percent. Rates were particularly low in workers who were health aides (e.g. nurses’ aides, medical assistants or orderlies), African American, or under 50.
The low flu vaccination rate among health care workers increases their likelihood of contracting the flu and passing it to patients. Health care workers, especially those who are minority, poor, or young, need both better education and improved access to primary care in order to reduce the spread of flu. Inequalities in health care currently undermine our ability to stop flu transmission. Should an epidemic of bird flu emerge, such inequalities will hamstring efforts to contain it.