Could emphasising sharps safety procedures lead to higher vaccine uptake

Friday February 10 2017

US health experts are concerned that too few teenagers in the country are being vaccinated against potentially life-threatening viruses including flu, meningitis and HPV.

This raises the question of whether emphasising how safe injections are could encourage more young people to receive them, as fears surrounding needlestick injuries and subsequent infections could be one of the factors holding people back from attending vaccine appointments.

In addition, a lax attitude to visiting the doctor may be a contributing factor, while needle phobias and concerns about the safety of vaccines might also have played a role in discouraging teenagers from receiving vital injections.

Speaking to Reuters, Dr. Henry Bernstein of the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in Hempstead, New York commented: "Immunisation rates for teenagers are lower than for younger children who see the doctor more often.

"Teenagers and their families need to recognise that they should get a physical every year and they should talk about vaccines at every visit."

Doctors and nurses could then use these appointments as an opportunity to highlight the high standards of sharps safety at their health facility, helping to put patients' minds at rest.

For example, medics could talk concerned patients through their needle sterilisation processes and highlight the features of any specialist sharps safety devices they use to prevent needlestick injuries from occurring as a result of broken or used sharps instruments.

Dr. Bernstein and his team found that only between 24 per cent and 68 per cent (depending on the state they live in) of teenage girls in the US have received the HPV vaccine, despite the national target being set at 80 per cent. This means that girls could be at greater risk of cervical cancer due to their unnecessary fears surrounding needles and sharps safety.

There is the same target for flu jabs, but under half (47 per cent) of America's 13 to 17-year-olds have received the influenza vaccine to date.

Uptake rates were higher for the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccine, with 43 US states achieving the target of 80 per cent. However, when it came to meningitis, just 23 states met this benchmark.

Altogether, these statistics suggest that healthcare workers and authorities need to join forces to promote America's sharps safety standards and to support patients through their needle phobias in order to make sure their health is as well-protected as possible.