Report roundup: Stressing the importance of flu vaccine during COVID pandemic

Public health experts have emphasized that during the COVID pandemic, it is important for people of all ages to get seasonal flu vaccine as a tool to limit the stress on health care systems. Our September Mott Poll report asked parents about getting flu vaccine for their children this year. Parents and health professionals across the country have been discussing the importance of children receiving flu vaccine this year not only to protect themselves, but also to prevent the spread of influenza to family members and others. Here’s what they had to say.

Avoiding a “twindemic”

Only 1 in 3 parents in the Mott Poll believed it is more important for their child to get flu vaccine this year compared to previous years, despite public health recommendations. CNN reporter Sandee LaMotte highlighted the difficulties COVID and the flu could pose for hospitals and health systems. “We may see peaks of flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could overwhelm the health care system, strain testing capacity and potentially reduce our ability to catch and treat both respiratory illnesses effectively,” said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark.

Increased flu vaccination this year can help reduce the number of influenza-related hospitalizations and doctor visits, and decrease the need for diagnostic tests to distinguish flu from COVID. “A key challenge for public health officials is how to reach parents who do not routinely seek seasonal flu vaccination for their child,” said Clark. “When getting a yearly flu vaccine is not a pattern, parents need to be prompted to think about why it’s essential for their child to get vaccinated.”

Provider recommendations

Recommendations from health care providers have been shown to increase the likelihood of vaccination, yet less than half of parents in the Mott Poll said their child’s regular health care provider strongly recommends flu vaccination this year. Medscape reporter Troy Brown, RN noted that this responsibility largely rests on the health care providers. Some providers focus their discussion on the specific vaccines that will be given during that day’s office visit, so visits that occur during flu season are more likely to involve discussions on flu vaccine, whereas visits in the spring and summer may be missing the opportunity for flu vaccine recommendations.

“This is very much a physician-oriented issue,” said Clark. “This is the year we need child health providers to step out of that pattern and be more proactive in trying to reach their patients who aren’t scheduled for those fall preventive visits.” She suggests providers pursue multiple strategies to emphasize the importance of flu vaccine during the COVID pandemic, such as reminder postcards.

Fighting misinformation

One-third of parents in the Mott Poll said they do not intend for their child to get flu vaccine this year. In an interview with WDIV Detroit, Clark explained that misinformation is largely what drives parents to opt out of flu vaccine for their children. “One of the biggest reasons we hear every year why parents say they don’t need to get a flu vaccine for their kids is, ‘My child is healthy and the flu is not that serious’, but that’s not true,” said Clark. “Almost every ear in Michigan we have one or more kids die, and we have a number of kids hospitalized with very severe complications from influenza.”

Among parents who will not seek flu vaccine this year, 1 in 7 said they are keeping their kids away from health care sites due to COVID. Clark suggests that parents contact their child’s health care provider to ask about safety precautions they have in place. Some practices are even offering drive-through vaccination to facilitate more people getting vaccinated. “Flu vaccine isn’t just for today or the month of September,” she said. “It’s going to carry us through the rest of the fall and winter.”

For more coverage of our September report, check out these articles from Michigan Health Blog, Bridge Magazine, US News & World Report, MarketWatch, HealthDay, USA Today, Popular Science, Healthline, The Hill, Metro ParentNet York Daily News, and The Independent.