DUBAI // Three out of four doctors and nurses in the Emirates have not been vaccinated against the common flu virus, a survey has found.
The finding has led to concerns that elderly patients and those with weak immune systems are at risk in the nation's hospitals.
Questionnaires filled out by healthcare workers in the UAE revealed that many considered vaccinations against seasonal influenza as either not effective or not a high enough priority in their schedules.
Flu can easily lead to pneumonia in the elderly, so the findings create a worrisome picture for them, said the report's author Eman Abu-Gharbieh, an assistant professor at Dubai Pharmacy College.
"Healthcare professionals are the first point of contact for patients. It's important that they be free of infection," she said. "Vulnerable patients are at a high risk of contracting influenza from healthcare workers. It can be very dangerous for them."
The study was carried out between July and October last year, and 1,500 surveys were distributed to healthcare workers in Oman, Kuwait and the Emirates.
Only 24.7 per cent of respondents in the UAE have had the vaccination, compared to 46.4 per cent in Oman and 67.2 per cent in Kuwait.
In the Emirates, the most common reasons for not taking the vaccine were a lack of awareness about availability of the serum, concern about side effects or a lack of time.
Seasonal flu vaccines, which contain killed influenza virus, are available each November and are calibrated based on what strains of influenza are common that year.
Although there have been concerns over the effectiveness of the vaccine in recent years, the debates do not make sense because of the changing components of the serum itself, Ms Abu-Gharbieh said.
Concerns about the side effects have also been exaggerated, she added. Possible side effects include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, as well as low-grade fever or aches, experts say.
One healthcare worker who regularly takes the vaccine is an internal medicine specialist at New Medical Hospital, Dr Ravi Arora.
"It's especially important for us to take the vaccine because we can contract influenza and transmit it as well," he said. "I think the concerns over side effects have been exaggerated. I took it a month ago and I haven't died yet."
Health authorities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have issued recommendations that professionals get vaccinated, but it has not been made mandatory.
Despite this, several hospitals have taken the initiative and made it tacitly obligatory for staff. At Gulf Speciality Hospital in Dubai, the director Dr Ali al Numairy purchases vaccines every year for his 50 to 60 employees.
"A vaccine costs only Dh40, but if an employee takes one or two days off work during the year, it often costs me more than that in lost manpower," he said. "It makes economic sense."