Strategies to improve influenza vaccination rates

As children in Washington State continue to die from influenza and some WCAAP members have been disappointed with their flu vaccine rates, we’re sharing a focused recommendation about how to communicate the importance of influenza vaccine to families. Thanks to Dr. Doug Opel for his expertise and contributions to the tips below, including sample messaging that has been found effective in communicating with hesitant families.

Lead the discussion
Make sure all staff and providers communicate the same message: We recommend the flu vaccine at our office and we all get it ourselves!
1. Make sure there are no missed opportunities.
2. Be presumptive about your recommendation: “We are going to give you the flu vaccine today to protect you this winter.”

Address hesitancy
If parents or kids respond that they don’t do the flu vaccine, ask why? Seek to understand. Respond to hesitant families by first listening to and addressing their concerns, and then provide compelling information.
1. Influenza vaccine can prevent flu illness and hospitalizations. This protects vulnerable elderly family members, babies and your whole family.
2. Influenza vaccination was found to reduce deaths in children.
3. Influenza vaccination may make illness milder. There are decreased deaths, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization. Remind families that the vaccine only prevents influenza, not other viruses. Make sure they understand that influenza is not gastroenteritis.

Sample messages that work
Click here to download a PDF of these messages to use in your clinic
1. “Vaccinating is the best way to protect your child from the flu. You go out into the world and may bring the flu home without wanting to.”
2. “I would recommend it. I just can’t tell you how hard the flu is on little children. It turns out that all ages of children are much more prone to complications from the flu.”
3. “We’ve been giving influenza vaccine to kids ever since I started practice. I have no safety concerns about the flu vaccine. I think it’s much safer to vaccinate than to not vaccinate.”
4. “The good news is if you look at risk to your baby of not immunizing versus immunizing, you are always going to be safer if you immunize.”
5. “It scares me when I hear stories from the pediatric ICU at Children’s where they have healthy kids who get influenza and go on to get bad pneumonia, so bad that they need help breathing with a ventilator. These serious complications happen in otherwise healthy kids who get the flu, and we’ve got a vaccine that can help prevent that.”
6. “The flu vaccine is not perfect, but it reduces the risk of flu by almost 60%. That is pretty good.”
7. “I’ve always vaccinated my kids with the flu vaccine, if that helps.”
8. “Vaccinating your child against flu is one of the most important and safest things that you can do for him.”

Source: Hofstetter A et al, Vaccine 2017;35:2709-2715