Americans are still wary about getting a flu shot – how clinicians can prepare

Nov. 13, 2018

Despite the fact that last year was one of the deadliest flu seasons on record – resulting in 80,000 deaths, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – American consumers remain unconvinced by the effectiveness of the flu shot. In fact, according to a new Stericycle report, “Influenza in the U.S.”, more than one in three Americans (35 percent) do not believe the flu vaccine is effective in protecting them against getting the flu.

This may be a key reason why one-third of American consumers (31 percent) do not plan to get a flu shot this year, and nearly 10 percent don’t know that they will – even though the majority (62 percent) worry about catching the flu in the winter. What’s more, when it comes to potentially getting the flu, Americans’ biggest concern is giving it to a child or vulnerable family member (37 percent). This is harrowing when you consider that, of the 80,000 people who died of influenza and its complications last year, 183 deaths were pediatric.

It’s up to clinicians to prepare their patients, facilities and employees well before the height of flu season. Here are three steps to streamline your influenza-prevention strategy:

First line of defense: Build awareness

Clinicians today are more than healthcare providers in that they are called upon to educate their patients about the risks associated with influenza season, and the consequences of skipping their annual shot. Providing consumers with knowledge about herd immunity, for instance, is critical in keeping influenza-related hospitalizations and deaths low, especially for those who are more vulnerable, like children and the elderly.

Providing demonstrations and/or literature on proper handwashing technique is also important, as one in five (20 percent) Americans do not take preventative measures to prevent contracting an infectious
disease, such as washing hands frequently or practicing respiratory hygiene.

Second line of defense: Expect the unexpected

The good news is that the majority (61 percent) of Americans do plan on getting the flu shot this winter. This means that clinicians need to maintain ample supplies of vaccines in order to avoid shortages, as well as adequate quantities of IV saline bags to treat patients with severe cases of influenza – which are especially important in the event of a particularly volatile winter season (e.g., heavy snowfalls that stall or prevent additional vaccinations from reaching facilities). In fact, preparing for the unexpected is key to maintaining critical medical supplies throughout this busy season.

Consider the 2017-2018 flu season, which was precursored by natural disasters like Hurricane Maria and record-breaking wildfires, and a “bomb cyclone” thrown right in the middle. All these events will (and did) disrupt the pharmaceutical supply chain, and clinicians must prepare for the worst-case scenario when looking ahead to the 2018-2019 season. Aligning clinic needs with the supply chain is pivotal to ensuring a successful influenza season, and there is likely to be a surge in demand this year after last year’s deadly season.

Third line of defense: Protect your people

It takes cooperation on many fronts to prevent the spread of any infectious disease, which is why the health of clinicians and other staff members must be top of mind for healthcare leaders. Ensuring that staff are properly trained in vaccine administration and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent contracting the virus themselves (e.g. facemasks and gloves) is critical to establishing a culture of compliance and well-being among staff. While many healthcare systems actually require healthcare staff to get vaccinated, the CDC reports that rates of flu vaccination among healthcare personnel have flattened at about 75 percent since 2014. Encouraging staff to get their annual flu shot (if not already required) and urging them to adopt a practice-what-you-preach mindset with frequent hand hygiene and more, is necessary to maintaining a healthful work environment and supportive staff during this hectic time.

These strategies are easy to implement and adaptable to clinics and healthcare facilities of any size. Streamlining supply chains and prioritizing worker health must be non-negotiable for clinics this season, especially after the havoc of the previous year. Most of all, educating patients about the importance of herd immunity, the effectiveness of vaccinations and the consequences of stalling or skipping their shot altogether is pivotal when it comes to increasing vaccination rates and protecting the most vulnerable members of their communities.