Influenza virus, in addition to impacting human health, also has a significant impact on workplace productivity due to absenteeism. Like many other employers, the University of Otago, one of the largest employers in New Zealand has offered the free flu vaccination to staff every year since 2005. To assess the effectiveness of this programme, we conducted an anonymous survey of staff on the University payroll in October 2015.
A total of 1,809 responses were received. The majority (77.1%) of respondents were aged 36 and above, 17.2% were aged 26–35 and only 5.8% were aged 25 or below. The majority (90.7%) of respondents knew that they need to get flu vaccination every year to reduce the risk of getting flu. Interestingly, age group was not associated with this knowledge (overall P=0.09). Most of the respondents (32.2%) learned this fact from the media (TV, newspaper, magazine). A close second, 31.3% cited other sources which included communication through workplace, general practitioner (GP), hospital or friends and personal knowledge as healthcare professionals, educators or students, whereas 16.8%, 11.8% and 8.0% of them learned this from their doctor, a colleague or a family member respectively. Further, 93.2% respondents knew that the University of Otago provides free flu vaccination to staff every year. This knowledge displayed a linear trend with respect to age group (P<0.001).
In 2015 67.3% respondents got the flu vaccination through this programme. Protecting themselves from flu and believing that vaccine reduces the risk of getting flu were the most common reasons for them to get vaccinated. Further, no associated cost and preventing spread of flu to others were also common reasons. Out of 540 (32.7%) respondents who responded in the negative to having been vaccinated through this programme in 2015, 19.1% believed that vaccination is ineffective against flu, 17.4% said that they never get the flu, while 12.6% were concerned about the side-effects of vaccination. However, 51.9% (279) of them specified other reasons which included getting vaccinated through their GP or other workplace (100), preferring a “healthy lifestyle” over vaccination (94) and missing the vaccination drive due to various reasons (76).
Overall, 85.6% of total respondents (72.3% ‘Yes’ and 13.3% ‘Maybe’) intended to get vaccinated in 2016. The age group was associated with this and the oldest age group (56+) had the highest intention (p=0.009). Out of 289 respondents who responded to the question specifying information they would need before deciding to get vaccinated in 2016, 42.6% wanted to know the efficacy and formulation of flu vaccine and any side-effects associated with it. However, 34.6% of them did not need any information and were against getting vaccinated. For 17.7%, it would have depended upon convenience like location and availability during the vaccination drive.
The majority (61.6%) of 671 respondents who responded to the question specifying any improvements needed to this programme did not think that any improvements were needed. However, 16.7% respondents wanted more vaccination clinics and on different days of the week, and 13.6% commented that programme needed more and frequent publicity. Few (5.4%) of them also wanted the programme to be extended to staff’s families, casual staff and students.
Overall, among respondents, flu vaccination knowledge and awareness were associated with vaccine uptake in 2015 and intention to get it in 2016. From a generalised path model, the respondents who knew that annual vaccination is needed were more likely to know that it was free (P=0.004), and more likely to have gotten it in 2015 (P<0.001) and intended to get it in 2016 (P<0.001). Furthermore, the awareness that the vaccine is free was positively associated with an intention to get it in 2016 (P=0.038).
One limitation of this study is that the data might only reflect the opinions of people who responded to the survey. During the survey period, the University employed 6,025 staff. In 2015 there were approximately 2,250 flu vaccine doses consumed, which was slightly higher from 2014 (approx. 2,000 doses). This indicates that overall vaccine uptake among University staff is still low. Based on survey responses, we believe that the lack of a timely and targeted aggressive promotional campaign could be one of the reasons for this.