Parental concerns may reduce the uptake of flu vaccination in children

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Research has suggested that parental concerns may reduce the uptake of flu vaccination in children. The study is the first to investigate parental attitudes towards the child flu vaccine in the UK, reporting that concerns about the vaccine’s safety should be addressed in order to increase uptake.

Author James Rubin (King’s College London) commented: “Our study is the first to look at what parents in England think about the child flu vaccine, which has important implications for how we communicate public health messages.”

The study, led by researchers from Kings College London (UK), reported a negative association between vaccine uptake and parental concerns about its safety, short-term side effects and long-term health problems. For examples, parents who perceived side effects in a previous year were less likely to vaccinate their children again the subsequent year.

The team surveyed 1001 parents or guardians of children aged 2–7 years old and therefore eligible to receive the child flu vaccination. They discovered that only 535 parents reported that their child had been vaccinated in the 2015–2016 flu season, with a stronger vaccine uptake in children who had previously been vaccinated, parents who supported the vaccine’s effectiveness or parents who thought their child was susceptible to flu.

The group discovered that 70% of parents reported a high intention to vaccinate their child in the 2016–2017 season, and the team suggest this high percentage is likely to reflect a gap between intentions and behaviors, as opposed to reflecting an increase from 2015–2016, which is commonly seen in public health-related behaviors

Although no causal link was established between parental concerns and vaccination rates, the results suggested that factors such as attitudes and social influences can affect both uptake and perception of side effects. For example, a perception that the vaccine is unsafe, causes side effects or causes long-term health problems all had a strong negative association.

These findings demonstrate that, despite increasing evidence that vaccination is best option to protect against flu, there are still parental concerns and this is adversely affecting uptake. The team hope their results will help improve public health messages, and state that attempts to improve uptake rates must address the concerns highlighted in their study.

First author Louise Smith, from King’s College London, explained: “These findings highlight that many parents feel they do not know enough about the vaccine and worry about possible side-effects. To improve uptake, messages should focus on beliefs that were strongly associated with vaccination, such as emphasising its effectiveness in preventing flu and highlighting the serious complications associated with the illness itself.

“However, this is easier said than done as we found that certain concepts, such as ‘effectiveness’, were only understood by one in five people. This shows that future messages to parents need to be as clear and comprehensible as possible.”

Sources: Smith LE, Webster RK, Weinman J, Amlôt R, Yiend J, Rubin GJ. Psychological factors associated with uptake of the childhood influenza vaccine and perception of post-vaccination side-effects: A cross-sectional survey in England. Vaccine. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2017.02.031 (2017) (Epub ahead of print); www.kcl.ac.uk/ioppn/news/records/2017/March/Parental-concerns-reduce-uptake-of-child-flu-vaccine.aspx

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