In Georgia, health workers are preparing for growing concerns of COVID-19 and influenza during a busy winter season

“does it hurt?” Laila asks Beradze politely as she administers the influenza vaccine to a health worker at the Botchorishvili Clinic, a large hospital in Tbilisi, Georgia. Laila is the head nurse in the clinic’s emergency unit, and has been a nurse for 35 years. His knowledge about vaccines is extensive.

She suggests that while the influenza vaccine is effective at protecting against the virus, getting vaccinated in October or November will have the greatest impact. “Influenza is widespread among older people. The risk of spreading influenza [as the cold season approaches] is high. An important part of the solution is the influenza vaccine.”

As far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned, Laila emphasizes that vaccination plays an important role. “I saw with my own eyes that people who were vaccinated had mild forms of COVID-19 and they recovered soon. Suffered or died from severe forms of COVID-19.

Although they are very different viruses, COVID-19 and influenza share some similarities. They are both respiratory diseases and both can cause serious illness or be life-threatening, especially for people who are older, pregnant, living with an underlying health condition such as heart disease, or Working as a health worker.

Health workers like Laila are highly vulnerable to COVID-19 and influenza infections because of their profession. They run the risk of getting sick themselves and spreading these diseases to vulnerable patients. Furthermore, since health workers are a primary and reliable source of information, their patients may be more likely to get vaccinated if they are positive about vaccination.

Yet use of the COVID-19 vaccine varies among health workers in the WHO European region, which includes 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia. Rates of vaccine coverage have been particularly low in some middle-income countries in the eastern part of the region, including Georgia.

While the lack of availability of a COVID-19 vaccine and other factors have contributed to this low uptake, vaccine hesitancy among some health workers remains a challenge.

According to the latest data collected by the NCDC of Georgia, the uptake of a primary series (2 doses) of the COVID-19 vaccine among the country’s healthcare workers is 60-80%. However, according to WHO/Europe, the coverage among this risk group with additional booster doses is only 18%. According to the latest data for the 2020/2021 season, influenza vaccine utilization reached 55%.

So, among Georgia health workers, who is more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19? What factors have influenced their decisions to get vaccinated or not to get vaccinated against COVID-19? And does it matter if he was previously vaccinated against influenza?

These are some of the questions a study published this year by WHO/Europe and the NCDC of Georgia sought to answer.

COVID-19 vaccine spread among health workers

The study, conducted between March and July 2021, assessed factors associated with early use of the COVID-19 vaccine among more than 1,500 health workers, including Laila and several of her colleagues, in 6 major hospitals in Tbilisi and Batumi.

It found that at that point, 17% of study participants had received 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Those most likely to get vaccinated included older health workers, especially those aged 50-59; health workers who rated vaccines as “somewhat effective” or “very effective” rather than “not effective”; and healthcare workers who have been vaccinated against influenza in the past.

In fact, healthcare workers who have been vaccinated against influenza in the past were 3 times more likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The study also showed that, compared to physicians, other categories of the health care workforce – including nurses and midwives, administrative staff and support staff – were less likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“This study could play an important role in shaping stronger vaccination campaigns. Understanding the reasons for low vaccine uptake among healthcare workers is critical if we are to increase COVID-19 vaccine consumption in this important population group,” Silvio Domente, head of the WHO country office in Georgia and WHO representative, explains.

“Creating a COVID-19 vaccine communication campaign for youth and non-physician health workers, and continuing to emphasize the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine, could help further increase vaccine coverage among Georgia health workers,” he added. said further.

Richard Peabody, Head of the High-threat Pathogens Team at WHO/Europe and coordinator of the study, explains, “Our findings suggest that a robust healthcare worker vaccination program for annual seasonal influenza could help promote a COVID-19 vaccine. Could And also strengthen preparedness for the next pandemic – ensuring that healthcare workers are vaccinated in case of future pandemics not caused by influenza or COVID-19.

Given that more than half of Georgian health workers were vaccinated against influenza, and that the COVID-19 vaccination rate among this group is relatively low, health workers’ decisions about vaccination and their effectiveness and safety need to be understood. More work is needed to better explain. Vaccination.

As of October 2022, only 30% of the Georgia population had completed the COVID-19 vaccine series, and 32% had received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccination against COVID-19 and influenza – the key this autumn and winter

Back at the clinic, Layla is making rounds of her unit. She is checking that everything is running smoothly and making sure that her patients are getting all the care and attention that they need. She exudes calm authority and professionalism.

Today the unit is relatively quiet — a welcome change from last year when COVID-19 hospital admissions in Georgia jumped 21% to people who weren’t vaccinated. But with cases of COVID-19 rising again in many countries in the region, along with an early spike in influenza, vaccination against both diseases among vulnerable groups is crucial this autumn and winter.

“The pandemic showed us that vaccination plays an important role in our health. Getting vaccinated doesn’t just mean protecting yourself – it also means protecting the people around you,” says Laila.

A colleague of Layla’s, 41-year-old nurse Aliso Mchharashvili, has just had an influenza vaccination. “Every autumn I look forward to the arrival of influenza vaccines so that I can get vaccinated and protect myself and my patients,” she says. “The vaccine provides a high level of protection for all healthcare workers, and especially for healthcare workers working in large hospitals like me.”

The WHO/Europe advice is clear: there is an urgent need to protect the health of people, especially the most vulnerable, by using all available tools, including vaccination. It is also important that people keep up with personal protective measures, such as regular hand washing, staying away from other people when unwell with a respiratory illness, and wearing well-fitting masks, especially when inadequate In crowded places with ventilation.

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