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‘70% doctors at KEM Hospital don’t take vaccine for swine flu’

By Rupsa Chakraborty, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON FEB 17, 2020 12:08 AM IST

Even though vaccine is recommended as a precaution against swine flu, only 30% physicians at the Seth GS Medical College and King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, Parel, one of the largest public health facilities in Mumbai, have opted for it, according to a study published in Journal of Education and Health Promotion.

A study conducted among 272 physicians, including faculty and resident doctors at KEM hospital, revealed that about 76.96% of non-vaccinated physicians were “not interested” in taking the annual vaccination. With a change in the strain, cases of H1N1 are now reported through the year, compared to a few months a year in the past. HT had reported last week how the city saw cases of swine flu in January, a first since 2016, making it essential for doctors working in hospitals to take the vaccination as per the instructions of World Health Organisation (WHO). The city recorded 451 cases of swine flu with five deaths in 2019, compared to 25 cases with no deaths in 2018. Doctors say the number goes up every alternate year, with a change in the strain. While three confirmed cases were reported in December 2019, eight cases were reported in January.

Currently, antiviral medication – oseltamivir and zanamivir – are used to treat swine flu. Locally made vaccines cost around 500, while imported vaccines cost between 900 and 1,500. The cost of medicines and hospital charges go run into lakhs of rupees. People need to take a fresh vaccine every year to keep themselves protected. The study says the requirement of annual vaccination makes physicians uncomfortable. Almost 97% of the respondents said they were concerned regarding the efficacy of H1N1 vaccination due to “short duration of protection offered by the vaccine”.

Researchers refuted the perception of physicians. “Swine flu is a strain of several viruses, so even if a person with strong immunity develops resistance to two of them, without vaccination, there is a chance that they might get infected with the third one,” said Dr Barsha Pathak Gadapani, department of community medicine, KEM hospital, who was part of the study.

Answers to the questionnaire that was part of the study showed many doctors believed that the vaccine caused side effects. “The new vaccines are extremely safe. Pregnant women also take the vaccine and we haven’t got any report of adverse effect,” said Dr Gadapani. Around 96% of doctors who have not taken the vaccine believed it caused vasovagal attack (when heart rate and blood pressure drop suddenly due to a trigger), 61.4% said the vaccine may cause seizures if given along with DPT vaccine, while another 34.92% respondents agreed there may be an increased risk of neurological complications. “Due to lack of knowledge about the efficiency of the vaccine, physicians normally depend on masks and washing hands. Our study also shows that almost 50% of the doctors don’t even follow these precautionary measures properly, which make them vulnerable to the infection,” said Dr Rukman Mecca Manapurath, department of community medicine, KEM hospital. The researchers raised the need to educate and counsel physicians regarding H1N1 vaccination, which can prove beneficial during any outbreak of the infection. “We have suggested conducting vaccine campaigns one month before the expected rise in the number of cases,” said Dr Gadapani.

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