Athens, GA—Pharmacists seeking to increase influenza vaccination rates this year might want to polish their sales pitch.

Analysis of a new survey
says only about half of Americans have received or say they are planning to get flu shots this season. Survey data analyzed by University of Georgia researchers states that about four in 10 did so during the last influenza season.  

Lead researcher Glen Nowak, PhD, a professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and director of Grady’s Center for Health and Risk Communication, reports that the fluctuation in the shot's effectiveness from one flu season to the next is one of the factors affecting that decision.

Yet, Nowak pointed out, the decision is bigger than that. “Your flu vaccination helps protect other people from flu, including both really young and older family members who are more vulnerable to severe illness,” he said. “There's evidence that the vaccine is often most effective in healthy adults 18 to 49, so by them being vaccinated they not only protect themselves from the flu, but they can help reduce the transmission of flu to others.”

Half of the survey respondents said they definitely or probably would not get the flu vaccine this year, and, as of October, fewer than 10% of 30- to 59-year-olds and only 5% of 18- to 29-year-olds had received a flu shot. Furthermore, according to the poll, 13% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 18% of 30- to 44-year-olds, and 30% of 45- to 49-year-olds said they were planning to get one. On the other hand, two out of three people >60 years were planning to or already had received the shot in October.

A report from the CDC said that, as of early November 2016, only about two out of every five persons 6 months and older in the United States had received a flu vaccination.

The University of Georgia analysis points out that the flu vaccine is one of only two shots universally recommended for adults, with the other being a tetanus booster every 10 years. While the tetanus shot was trusted to be safe and effective by 75% of the 1,000 respondents to the nationally representative poll, only about half disclosed similar trust in the flu vaccine.

“One of the challenges with the flu vaccine is we've sort of plateaued in terms of the number of people who get the seasonal flu vaccine,” Nowak said. “That's unfortunate because more people can clearly benefit from getting it. It's not a perfect vaccine, but it's the best protection you can have from influenza.”

Because the survey found that Americans who received a flu vaccination in previous years were most likely to get a flu vaccination this year, study authors suggest that could bode well if more children get vaccinated.

“People most trust vaccines they’ve had experiences with,” Nowak emphasized. “When people gain experience with a vaccine they often become more willing to follow the vaccination recommendation.”

The CDC suggests other ways to increase flu vaccination uptake, noting, “Standing orders can reduce the number of missed opportunities for vaccinating persons in multiple settings including clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and long-term care settings and can increase coverage. Primary care providers, subspecialists, and pharmacists should routinely assess, recommend, and offer vaccinations when patients access the medical system. If a provider cannot administer flu vaccination, they should refer their patients to a provider who offers flu vaccination.”

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