Bethesda, MD—Understanding that pharmacists need to understand what influences receipt of annual influenza vaccines to better focus efforts on increasing uptake, a new study describes some of the key factors.

One of the most significant, according to research presented at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) virtual 2021 Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition, is whether people have regular healthcare providers. Researchers from Midwestern University in Arizona and colleagues point out that flu vaccine rates are low, just 44.5% among those who do, but less than half that, 20.5%, in those who don't.

"This research reminds us that under-vaccination and vaccine hesitancy are not limited to COVID-19," explained researcher Sinmileoluwa Okegbile, a PharmD candidate at Midwestern University. "Low vaccination rates for the flu persist among those living in the United States even though vaccines can prevent severe illnesses, hospitalization and death. Our study suggests a need for a fresh approach to counteract hesitancy."

Past research indicates risk perceptions and demographic characteristics are the most influential factors in vaccine hesitancy, which this study reiterates.

Anna Legreid Dopp, ASHP's senior director of clinical guidelines and quality improvement, who was not involved in the study, suggests pharmacists are in a good position to deal with some of the gaps identified in the study.

"Pharmacists are accessible to most people, even those without a consistent relationship with another healthcare provider, and they have a unique opportunity to initiate conversations about vaccines and then order and administer the vaccine," Dopp said. "Having open and respectful conversations around vaccines, including both COVID-19 and influenza, while easing access for patients, is the best way to increase vaccination rates."

To quantify rates of influenza vaccination, the study focused on more than 2.5 million health survey records from the 2015, 2017, and 2019 Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System databases of the CDC. Included in the study were U.S. adults.

The findings of the analysis indicate that influenza vaccination is lowest among Blacks (32%) and Latinos (31%), compared with 41% of whites. It also reveals that flu vaccination uptake increases with the number of medical conditions; in fact, 82% of those with four or more obesity-related conditions get vaccinated against flu.

Age also is an extremely important indicator, with vaccination steadily increasing with age. While nearly 60% of people over age 65 are vaccinated, fewer than a third of those aged 18 to 25 years fall into that category.

"Awareness of predictors of influenza vaccination can equip pharmacists with information to help them develop targeted services to support those less likely to be vaccinated," Okegbile said.

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