Why are vaccines important for physicians and medical students?

Regina Célia de Menezes Succi, Professora do Curso de Medicina, Faculdade São Leopoldo Mandic, Campinas, SP, Brasil. E-mail: succi@picture.com.br
 
The study sought to identify medical students’ and physicians' perceptions with regard to the importance of vaccines and the risks of refusing vaccines. The results showed that although the two groups recognize the importance of vaccines, medical students and physicians do not adequately get themselves vaccinated. Furthermore, they have doubts about vaccine schedules, vaccine safety and vaccine refusal.  
 
Despite the existence of a reliable national vaccine program, 17% of medical students do not recognize that vaccines protect against life-threatening diseases. Additionally, 64.5% of these students and 38.5% of doctors are not familiar with the vaccines that make up the official vaccine schedule.
 
This was one of the conclusions made by researchers at the São Leopoldo Mandic School in Campinas, São Paulo. They applied questionnaires with open and closed-ended questions to a sample of 92 subjects, who were selected at a private medical school in Campinas. The sample was divided into two groups: group 1, with 53 medical students (first through fourth year students); and group 2, with 39 doctors, some of whom were also professors, from different specialties. The study was conducted in 2016 and published in the Revista de Pediatria in March of 2019.
 
The data collected from the questionnaire, which was answered by the participants in the sample, were tabulated in Excel and analyzed statistically. All of the students and 94.9% of the physicians reported having an immunization record, and most said they remembered their last vaccine. However, even though they are at-risk for catching the flu, 15.4% of the physicians and 47.2% of the students did not receive the flu vaccine in 2015 due to "lack of interest" and "fear of adverse events".
 
All of the physicians and 83 percent of the students agreed with the statement that "vaccines protect against life-threatening diseases," and most said that "the benefits of vaccines are far more important than potential adverse events." In Brazil, the National Immunization Program (Programa Nacional de Imunizações - PNI) was considered to be efficient and reliable according to 88.7% of the students and 92.3% of the physicians. However, most of the students and 38.5% of the doctors were unaware of the number of infectious diseases that can be avoided with the help of PNI vaccines.
 
The study also showed that while most physicians and students recognize that vaccinated individuals can protect others from infectious diseases, 34% of the students did not recognize the importance of herd immunity in controlling infectious diseases.
 
The researchers recognize that the study had a significant limitation with regard to sample size and, therefore, they cannot generalize the findings. But they concluded that medical students and doctors have doubts about the vaccine schedule, the safety of vaccines, herd immunity and the ethical aspects of refusing vaccines— doubts that may lead to unpreparedness in addressing the issue of vaccine refusal, which is rising worldwide. The success of vaccination coverage has, among its determining factors, whether or not health professionals (and medical students) have enough knowledge and have correct knowledge about the importance of vaccines (THEODORIDOU, 2014).
 
Considering that the immunization of these professionals is recognized as the best form of protection against infectious risk (Edwards et al., 2016), the vaccination of this group and its beliefs also need to be evaluated in the context of vaccine refusal. The researchers say that knowing the possible flaws in the concepts of this population will be useful in the creation of new content to be introduced in the programming for teaching about immunizations and the prevention of infectious diseases. It is also important to emphasize that, in medical schools' curriculum, discussions around vaccination and the importance of vaccinating health professionals can enable future medical doctors to be more informed in the decision-making process about vaccination, which takes into account vaccination itself and ethical vaccination refusal. In the end, this ensures that vaccination programs are sucessful.
 
Reference(s)
EDWARDS, K. M. Countering Vaccine Hesitancy. Pediatrics., v. 138, n. 3, pii, e20162146, 2016.e-ISSN: ISSN: 1098-4275 [reviewed 3 February 2019]. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-2146. Avaliable from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27573088
THEODORIDOU, M. Professional and ethical responsibilities of health-care workers in regard to vaccinations. Vaccine, v. 32, n. 38, p. 4866-4868, 2014. ISSN: 0264-410X [reviewed 3 February 2019]. DOI: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.05.068. Avaliable from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24951862

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