Parents Undervalue Flu Vaccine

February 25th 2016

Nearly 20,000 children aged 5 years or younger are hospitalized for influenza-related complications each year, yet many parents remain uncertain of the flu vaccine’s importance or safety.

Nearly 20,000 children aged 5 years or younger are hospitalized for influenza-related complications each year, yet many parents remain uncertain of the flu vaccine’s importance or safety.

In a recent survey conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, only 52% of parents reported that their children had been vaccinated against the flu, in spite of recommendations that all children aged 6 months and older receive an annual flu shot.

Unsurprisingly, those who did not get their children vaccinated tended to hold more negative views about the flu vaccine than those whose children were immunized, the survey results revealed.

Among parents whose children did not receive a flu shot:

  • 59% said the flu shot was less important than other childhood vaccinations, compared with 14% of those whose children received a flu shot.
  • 21% thought the flu vaccine was not tested as strongly as other childhood vaccinations.
  • 23% believed the flu vaccine had more adverse events than other childhood vaccinations.
  • 48% felt the flu vaccine did not work as well as other childhood vaccinations.

“Despite substantial public health efforts, flu vaccine rates for US children are well below national targets,” said lead study author Sarah J. Clark, MPH, in a press release. “In exploring why some parents do not have their child get the flu vaccine, we found that many parents do not believe that flu vaccine is as safe, effective or important as the other vaccines their children receive.”

This lack of confidence among parents could stem from a misunderstanding about the flu vaccine’s efficacy, Clark noted. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that this season’s flu vaccine is 59% effective, which means it is reducing the risk of a flu-related health care visit by nearly 60%.

That’s a tremendous improvement from the less than 23% efficacy seen with last season’s flu vaccine, but because the vaccine does not necessarily guarantee that a patient will not develop the flu, many parents dismiss the need for immunization altogether.

“This is a complicated concept that is different than the way we explain the effectiveness of other childhood vaccines,” Clark stated. “This may lead parents to wrongly believe that the flu vaccine doesn't work.”

The survey results also suggested that parents’ uncertainty of the flu vaccine’s importance might be due in part to how their children’s health care providers emphasize immunization. Notably, 32% of parents whose children were not vaccinated reported that their children's provider recommended flu vaccine less strongly than other vaccines, compared with only 9% of those whose children received a flu shot.

“Health care providers can play an important role in addressing parents' negative beliefs about flu vaccine,” Clark explained. “To do so, they should fully explain and strongly recommend an annual flu vaccine for all children.”

Retail clinicians are ideally situated to promote childhood flu vaccination, as aseparate surveypublished inJAMA Pediatricsrevealed that many parents prefer bringing their children to a retail clinic over taking them to a pediatrician.

“Many parents with established relationships with a pediatrician use retail clinics for themselves and for their children, with some repeatedly choosing the retail clinic over an office visit,” theJAMAstudy authors wrote. “These parents believe retail clinics provide better access to timely care at hours convenient to the family’s schedule.”

In a previously interview withContemporary Clinic, Glen Nowak, PhD, encouraged retail clinicians and other health care providers to educate parents, especially first-time mothers and fathers, on the benefits of vaccination and the risks of not following immunization recommendations.

“Since vaccine safety is often a primary concern, information that helps first-time parents better understand how vaccines work to protect children, the reasons vaccines are given to infants, and what to expect during and after vaccination visits would be helpful,” Dr. Nowak said.

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