Overcoming Negative Attitudes Toward the Flu Vaccine

By HMS
Oct. 7, 2019

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The First Step In Fighting the Flu

An annual flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and its potentially serious complications. Experts estimate that during the 2017-2018 flu season, vaccinations prevented around 7 million cases of influenza, 109,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 8,000 flu deaths. Despite these facts, a high percentage of Americans have negative perceptions about the flu vaccine.

Resistance to Flu Immunization: A Common Problem

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) recently conducted a survey of adults in the United States which revealed attitudes toward the flu vaccine and common reasons why some people are reluctant to get immunized.

Although 60% of survey participants agreed that the flu vaccine was the best preventive measure against flu-related deaths and hospitalizations, only around half (52%) indicated that they planned to get a flu shot this year. Even those who are at greater risk for flu-related complications have negative attitudes about the flu shot – one in four said they weren’t going to get vaccinated.

The top reasons that people cited for not getting a flu vaccine included:

  • The belief that flu vaccines don’t work well (51%)
  • Concerns about the side effects of the vaccine (34%)
  • Fear of getting the flu from the vaccine (22%)

These false beliefs can have significant negative health effects for individuals, as well as for the public at large. The reality is that flu-related complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections can affect anyone. The flu can also worsen chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

When “healthy adults” don’t get a flu vaccine and then become sick, they can also expose vulnerable populations to the illness. Adults who are 65 and older often have weakened immune systems and are at greater risk of flu-related complications, hospitalization, and even death. Individuals with heart disease are six times more likely to have a heart attack within seven days of contracting the flu. Diabetes can interfere with the body’s ability to fight flu and obesity has been linked with chronic inflammation and insulin resistance – both of which can be exacerbated by influenza.

Best Practices for Fighting the Flu

As part of its #FightFlu campaign, NFID has identified three steps to help combat the spread of influenza:

  1. Get a vaccination each year.
  2. Engage in healthy habits, such as handwashing, covering sneezes and coughs, and staying home if you are sick.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs, if prescribed by your doctor.

It will be hard to make progress on the first step unless people abandon their negative attitudes toward flu vaccines. Health plans can play a central role in motivating members to get immunized. HMS’ Eliza offers a Flu Immunization Outreach Program as a multi-touch solution that guides members to get their vaccine before flu season strikes. The program is available throughout flu season and includes one outreach using IVR calls, SMS text messages or email.

The Flu Immunization Outreach Program is unique because it leverages behavioral science to confront misconceptions about and barriers to flu vaccines head on. By understanding members’ attitudes and beliefs, in combination with factors like demographics and prior knowledge, it’s possible to predict the likelihood of completing a health behavior like vaccination. Eliza employs several communication techniques to increase the effectiveness of the outreach effort, including:

  • Message Framing Theory. Gain framed messages are more effective for preventive behaviors like the flu vaccine. These types of messages underscore what an individual will gain after completing a desired behavior.
  • Member Segmentation. Eliza’s flu outreach messages are segmented by age group. The message content is targeted and customized to fit each segment’s unique differences and goals.
  • Culturally Appropriate Translations. Eliza never does one-for-one translation from English to Spanish. A team of Spanish-speaking engagement designers ensures that Spanish flu outreach messages are appropriate and persuasive for audiences.

Clients have seen meaningful results from the outreach program. In one season, flu immunization rates increased 34%. One plan found that 41% of members accepted a transfer to the health plan care team and another enjoyed a 12% increase in CAHPS scores over the previous year.

With HMS’ Eliza, #FightFlu has never been easier. Our Account Management team facilitates the entire process from content creation and design to program execution and reporting with the program capable of being completed in less than one month.

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