BALTIMORE — Weekly e-Health text messages promoting influenza vaccination and linking users to a health resource center improved vaccine uptake among college students, according to data presented at the Annual Conference on Vaccine Research.
Annual influenza vaccination rates are estimated to be 40% among college students in the United States, which is below the CDC (70%) and American College Association Healthy Campus 2020 (50%) target recommendations, according to Catherine Sharbaugh, DNP, CRNP, director of student health services at Haverford College, and colleagues. Reasons for refusing vaccination include the effect of the vaccine, family advice, fear of vaccination, lack of perceived risk and cost issues.
To overcome these barriers, Sharbaugh and colleagues developed the HaverFlu health portal for students attending Haverford College. The portal provides information on the benefits and safety of influenza vaccination, the cost and availability of the vaccine on campus, and stories shared by students regarding their own experiences with influenza. To attract students to the portal and increase vaccination on campus, the researchers created text messages containing brief facts on influenza and a link to the portal.
Students were invited via email to participate in a project examining the efficacy of the e-Health technology. Nearly 130 students participated in the project, receiving one brief text message weekly from Aug. 31 to Oct. 31, 2015. Sharbaugh and colleagues compared the number of vaccines administered at the student health center during the 8-week duration with vaccination rates during the same period in 2014. They found that influenza vaccination rates increased, with 90 students vaccinated in 2014 and 251 students vaccinated in 2015. Overall, 84% of students on campus were vaccinated in 2015 vs. 15% in 2014, Sharbaugh told Infectious Disease News.
Ninety-nine participants responded to a survey assessing their reasons for vaccination. Among them, 51% said they received the influenza vaccine to stay healthy, 36% said the vaccine was recommended to them by family members, 34% said the vaccine was recommended by their health care provider, 24% received the vaccine because it was covered by insurance, and 14% said information on the portal encouraged them to be vaccinated.
“The scholarly project to improve flu vaccination on Haverford’s campus was a tremendous success,” Sharbaugh told Infectious Disease News. “Students connected with the project and it was a great way to get the word out to vaccinate on campus. The students were able to be educated on the important benefits of the vaccine and assess the value for themselves. Students judged their risk and benefit, and they acted on the preventative message, ‘be prepared, be flu ready, be vaccinated.’”
Sharbaugh and colleagues concluded that the use of e-Health technology through text messages may be useful for other health initiatives.
“For success using e-Health text messages health providers must be mindful of the ‘right dose’ of technology, a little might not be enough to effect a change, too much might cause an overdose of message, which can result in deleting the message,” Sharbaugh said. “However, the correct therapeutic balance of message can create the wanted healthy response. Young adults access health information in a variety of ways, but e-Health technology use is rapidly growing, and students prefer text messaging as their main form of communication.
"Campus health promotion and health education must utilize these methods to engage more students in achieving their health goals. At Haverford, the health services staff will continue to use text messages to promote the influenza vaccine. Future public health initiatives that target goals from the CDC and the ACHA’s Healthy Campus 2020 will benefit from e-Health technology use.” – by Stephanie Viguers
Sharbaugh C, et al. Poster 45. Presented at: Annual Conference on Vaccine Research; April 18-20, 2016; Baltimore.
Disclosure: Sharbaugh reports no relevant financial disclosures.