Report roundup: Parent information sources influence flu vaccine decisions

Annual flu vaccination is recommended for all children six months and older, yet the vaccine rate for US children is much lower for flu vaccine than for other childhood vaccines. Our November Mott Poll report asked parents about what influences their decision to get or not get flu vaccine for their child. Parents and media across the country have been discussing this topic and emphasizing the importance of flu vaccine for children. Here’s a roundup of the conversation.

HCP recommendation is key

When deciding whether to get their child flu vaccine, about half of parents in the Mott Poll said they usually follow the recommendation of their child’s health care provider, while 38% make their own decision based on what they read or hear. This was the focus of a feature on CNN, One-third of US parents plan to skip flu shots for their kids this season. Reporter Naomi Thomas highlighted that about 1 in 5 parents said they did not remember whether their child’s health care provider made a recommendation about flu vaccine for their child. “To me, the biggest takeaway is that there is a group of parents who look like they have a gap in expert guidance around whether kids should get flu vaccines,” says Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, “specifically whether their kid should get flu vaccine.”

Echo chamber

Parents of children not getting flu vaccine this year reported seven times more negative information sources about flu vaccine than positive sources, suggesting there may be somewhat of an echo chamber of information sources about flu vaccine for children. This was highlighted in a Healio article, One-third of parents are declining flu vaccination for their child this year. Reporter Katherine Bortz noted that the most common information source among parents who chose to vaccinate their child was the child’s health care provider. “For kids who do not see their provider during influenza season, which can be a lot of kids, providers may fail to even address the influenza season,” says Clark. “Providers should also be willing to take the time to have the conversation about the vaccine when they hear hesitancy or refusal from a parent.”

Influence of information sources

Among parents who decide whether to vaccine their children based on what they read or hear, comments from friends and family were the most common sources prompting parents to question or not want flu vaccine for their child. This was the focus of a CafeMom piece, The reason why 1/3 of parents aren’t getting their kids the flu shot this year is seriously disturbing. Writer Genny Glassman highlighted that parents who base their decisions on what they read or hear are often not getting recommendations from medical professionals. “It’s important to acknowledge that for some parents, child health providers are not the sole influence, or even the primary influence, on decisions about the flu vaccine,” says Clark. “For these families, we need to explore other mechanisms to convey accurate information and allow parents to hear a more balanced viewpoint.”

Why vaccinate?

Still unsure if your child will get the flu vaccine this year? U-M Mott pediatrician Jennifer McDonald, MD offers information for parents in a Michigan Health Blog post, 6 reasons your child needs a flu shot now. “Some people may not realize how serious flu can be,” says Dr. McDonald, “…thousands of kids are hospitalized every year with the flu.” Getting your child flu vaccine helps protect others who may be vulnerable – “it also keeps your child from spreading the nasty – and potentially dangerous – virus around,” says McDonald. The effectiveness of flu vaccine is about 40-60%, and Dr. McDonald notes that “similarities among strains can still help some flu shot recipients endure a less serious course of illness if they contract the virus.” And finally, Dr. McDonald emphasizes to parents that the flu shot cannot give you the flu.

For more coverage on our November Mott Poll report check out these articles from Reuters, ABC News, Mother Jones, Romper, New York Daily News, Jezebel, and Michigan Radio.