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MALTATODAY 18 October 2020

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 18 OCTOBER 2020 NEWS Delivery fee of just €1 per day for orders up to 5 newspapers per address To subscribe 1. Email us your choice of newspapers, recipient's name, address, contact number to production 2. Forward cheques payable to Miller Distributors Ltd on address: Miller House, Airport Way, Tarxien Road, Luqa LQA1814 Queries on other news- papers and magazines, production@ maltatoday Same-day delivery of your favourite Sunday newspaper Monday-Friday MaltaToday Midweek • €1 BusinessToday • €1.50 Sunday MaltaToday • €1.95 ILLUM • €1.25 Support your favourite newspaper with a subscription JAMES DEBONO THE percentage of doctors re- fusing vaccination against influ- enza is expected to drop from 23% in 2019 to just 6% this win- ter, a survey among medical practitioners published in the latest edition of the Malta Medi- cal Gazette reveals. But despite concerted efforts by the health department to minimise the risks of a dual impact of seasonal influenza and COVID-19 on the coun- try's healthcare system in win- ter, a quarter of nurses are still adamant on not taking the jab according to a questionnaire sent to all healthcare workers in July. The survey, described as "en- couraging" by the authors, in- dicates an increase in the 'pro- jected' vaccine uptake across all healthcare workers, with the percentage of nurses refusing vaccination expected to drop from 45% to 25% in 2020. When all health workers are taken in to account, the per- centage of non-immunised workers is expected to drop from 41% last year to 21%. Globally, seasonal influenza infects 5%-15% of the popu- lation, with a total of 3-5 mil- lion cases of severe illness and 500,000 deaths. Hospital-ac- quired influenza has a particu- larly high mortality, and health- care workers are frequently the source of these infections. Since the survey was held three months ago, it does not take into account the impact of information campaigns in sub- sequent months, which are ex- pected to further increase the uptake of health professionals taking the vaccine. The anonymous question- naire was sent to all healthcare workers in Mater Dei Hospital, district primary care health centres, St Vincent de Paul home, Mount Carmel mental health hospital, Karin Grech rehabilitation hospital and oth- er smaller facilities. A total of 735 health workers answered the questionnaire. Respondents were asked whether they had taken the in- fluenza vaccine last winter and whether they intend taking the vaccine this coming winter. But while the numbers are encouraging the authors de- cried the fact that some med- ical practitioners still decline the vaccination, warning that this behaviour is "unethical" and that "there is really is no excuse not to take the vaccine" since any side effects are mild and typically resolved within two days. They also call on the author- ities to consider making the vaccine mandatory for doctors, nurses and other health work- ers. Since healthcare workers ac- cept professional responsibility for the care and well-being of their patients, they are obliged to "follow evidence-based prac- tices" while the "institutions are obliged to enforce univer- sal vaccination of their health care workers against seasonal influenza." The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology has recommend- ed that annual influenza vacci- nation should be a condition of employment for healthcare workers. The study also calls on the authorities "strongly promote employee vaccination uptake with educational campaigns that target misconceptions and reinforce the contention that vaccination is integral to ethi- cal, beneficent, and profession- ally competent care." The authors of the study at- tribute the higher proportion of healthcare workers intend- ing to avail themselves of in- fluenza vaccination this year to "the strong advice already be- ing given in this regard by the Public Health Department" to minimise the risks of a poten- tial dual impact of seasonal in- fluenza and COVID-19 on the country's healthcare system in winter 2020. The reluctance of a significant percentage of health workers to take the jab is attributed to "insufficient knowledge about the vaccine and its safety with irrational apprehension." International studies show that the influenza vaccination of healthcare workers reduces mortality in influenza-vulner- able populations, especially among the elderly and in care homes. The vaccine is available for free for healthcare workers, or at a nominal price of circa €10 if taken privately. The study was authored by paediatricians Victor Grech and Simon Attard Montalto, public health superintendent Charmaine Gauci, and Mater Dei Chief Operating Officer Steve Agius. Despite COVID-19 emergency, 25% of nurses still won't get immunised Study co-authored by Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci suggests mandatory inf luenza vaccination for all health workers Record cold water MATTHEW AGIUS MALTA is yet to see the worst of the COVID-19 epidemic, the Medical As- sociation of Malta (MAM) has said as the Malta Un- ion of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) warned that Malta risked a catastrophe if infec- tion numbers continued to climb. Yesterday, MAM noted the record numbers of COV- ID-19 diagnoses accompa- nied by a clear and relentless upward trend of hospitaliza- tions. "Inevitably more intensive care admissions and deaths will soon follow. Unfortu- nately, the Maltese people are yet to see the worst of this epidemic." The association criticised what it described as the "gov- ernment's attitude of 'busi- ness as usual' and the illusion of 'fake' normality, promoted by the prime minister him- self," saying it had clearly backfired and led to record after record of cases. MAM said it welcomed some of the measures an- nounced yesterday evening, many of which it had repeat- edly insisted on since Au- gust, but said it remains "very skeptical and unconvinced" as to the willingness to en- force by the government. "Fake measures such as 'crisps with COVID' in bars and social clubs have acted as superspreaders. 'Fake' or no enforcement, coupled with 'fake' and pardonable fines have led to regular mass events in areas like Pace- ville and Valetta. Closure at 11:00pm will have no im- pact at all, while the very low number of €800 fines in two months in does not augur well." Testing just 15 arrivals a day at the airport was an- other "fake" measure, it said, explaining that possibly hun- dreds of infected persons were coming to Malta every week and remained unde- tected. "Obligatory testing

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