Who's NOT Getting the Flu Shot?

Oct 3, 2011, 7:40 PM, Posted by

Campaigns are well underway by pharmacies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical professional organizations to get everyone eligible (and that’s most of us older than six months old) to get a flu shot this year. But a recent survey of over 1,200 adults by the Eliza Corporation, a health engagement management company, and the Rand Corporation, found that only about half of all Americans say they get a flu shot “most years” and about 60 percent plan to get one for the upcoming flu season.

Among those least likely to say they'll get a flu shot:

  • Young adults
  • People at health extremes – both people who are very healthy and people who are ill with multiple chronic conditions
  • People who are not caregivers to children or adults
  • People who have never had the flu

Factors that increase the likelihood of getting a flu shot:

  • Employer flu shot clinics
  • Being worried about getting the flu

The survey authors say tailored messaging and communication channels would help get more people to roll up their sleeves for the flu shot. Young adults, for example, might respond well to the concept of the flu shot as another thing they can do to keep themselves well, like getting active and eating right, and would appreciate messages delivered by text message. And since half of all responders think the flu shot can make them get the flu, the correct information—that the shot doesn’t make a person sick with the flu—needs to be crafted and transmitted.

Effective messages tested by the Eliza Corp include:

  • Flu vaccines are safe
  • It is safer to get the flu vaccine than to get the flu
  • Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have safely gotten flu vaccines
  • The most common side effects from the flu vaccine are mild

The best performing message: “Flu vaccines are safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration hold vaccines to the highest safety standards and the vaccine is closely monitored.”

A fear-based message was the worst performing: “When an outbreak is severe, the same number of people die from the flu that die from breast cancer in a given year.”

Money is also a motivation to get the shot, according to the survey researchers, particularly for people whose shot is covered by insurance or an employer. But reminding people paid by the hour that they won’t get paid if they get the flu was also an effective motivator.

These resources can help direct people to flu shots:

  • Flu.gov, the U.S. government’s influenza web site has a state-based flu shot locator on the home page. Locations include community health centers, which often offer the vaccines for free.
  • Many pharmacies offer the shot for about $30 and will often accept an insurance card for coverage, though they do charge a co-pay. Check pharmacy websites for walk-in hours and to see if you can schedule the shot at a specific time. Also check for chain-specific perks. CVS offers a $5 store gift card for people who are not covered by insurance; Walgreens lets you download and fill out the required consent form, which can save time when you go in for the shot.

Weigh In: What messages is your community using this year to increase the number of people who will get their flu shots this year?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.