Can presidential promotion boost flu vaccination rates?

December 11, 2019

President Donald Trump offered his support for flu vaccines and promised to promote additional research on seasonal flu, but will it help?

While the Trump administration has been criticized in the past for aligning with anti-vaccination camps, it appears as though the president has had a change of heart-one that could help boost flu vaccination this year.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in September supporting flu vaccination, and directing research to improve vaccine manufacturing and efficacy. The order reveals that the administration plans to work toward modernizing flu vaccine by reducing reliance egg-based vaccines, improving production speed so that vaccines can be created more quickly to better match circulating viruses, to support development of a universal flu vaccine, and to reduce barriers to seasonal flu vaccines.

Flu vaccines were responsible for preventing as many as 7.1 million cases of influenza during the 2017-18 season, according to the White House, helping American avoid 3.7 million medical visits and 109,000 hospitalizations.

Laura Morris, MD, MSPH, FAAFP, Vaccine Science Fellow for the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and a family physician in Fulton, Mo., said support from the president can go a long way in promoting seasonal flu vaccination.

“With this administration, it’s great to see the president speak out on behalf of science and immunization,” Morris says. “I’m very happy to see the administration has come down on the side of science and public health policy, because it’s not something the president has spoken out much about.”

Past administrations have offered support from time to time for flu vaccination, and Morris says she thinks it does have a positive impact.

“I think that it does help. Our patients hear this, and they see it on social media, and that helps to counter a lot of the false messaging and false advertising people see on social media every day,” she says.

While Morris isn’t certain that there is data to support a positive effect from a presidential pitch, she says she is seeing an uptick in vaccination in her own clinic.

“In my community practice, our uptake this year is up about 10 percent over our numbers from last year,” Morris says. “We don’t have a lot of anti-vaccination sentiment here, and I think that our patients are used to hearing consistent messages from all providers that they need their flu shot.”

Morris says providers can help support flu vaccine compliance by offering consistent, frequent reminders about the importance of vaccination. Patients may need extra reminders after more mild flu seasons, she says, adding that there is a small amount of fear after a bad flu season that helps boost vaccinations.

“Patients will think, ‘I was fine last year,’ or there is that belief that it won’t happen to them because they haven’t gotten the flu before,” Morris says. “We can’t tell you how well it works to prevent the disease you didn’t get. When the flu is not as widespread, there is a perception that you don’t need it.”

Even for patients with a lower risk of complications from flu, Morris says vaccination is key to keeping more vulnerable populations safe. Influenza reaches epidemic proportions every year in the U.S. from a public health standpoint, Morris says, and it takes a lot of vaccinations to prevent patients who can’t receive them.

“The flu is very preventable, and patients and the public don’t often understand that we never really get to the point in vaccinations to achieve herd immunity,” Morris says. “If we could reach 60 to 70 percent of the population, we would have a huge drop in out impact from influenza.”

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