Creative approaches needed to increase flu vaccine uptake amid COVID-19
Primary care physicians will need to deploy safe, creative measures to improve influenza vaccination rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an expert told Healio Primary Care.
“There are a variety of things they can do,” William Schaffner, MD, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and an Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Member, said in an interview.
In recognition of National Immunization Awareness Month, which is commemorated each August, Schaffner discussed ways to increase influenza vaccine uptake this year and preemptive steps that PCPs can take for a likely COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: CDC data show about 66% of U.S. children and 45% of U.S. adults received the influenza vaccine last year. What should PCPs be doing to increase these rates amid COVID-19?
A: PCPs will need to convince their patients that they can be vaccinated safely. Everyone in the office must mask up, practice physical distancing and clean the office regularly with disinfectants.
Physicians may also have to show creativity, such as setting up end-of the-day or beginning-of-the-day immunization clinics where patients come in and out for their vaccines very quickly. Some physicians in my area have had patients park their cars outside the doctor's office, the nurses come out and vaccinate people in their car.
Q: What impact will COVID-19 have on influenza vaccine uptake? How can PCPs ensure patients are getting vaccinated?
A: There will be patients who are skittish about getting the influenza vaccine amid the pandemic. But with the influenza and COVID-19 viruses likely converging this fall, people must get the influenza vaccine. We should acknowledge to patients that the flu vaccine is not perfect — it does not completely guarantee immunity from influenza and does not protect against COVID-19 — but patients, including those who previously had COVID-19, still need one to protect themselves and take some of the strain off the health care system.
Q: A recent Gallup poll showed that one in three Americans has no intention of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. How can PCPs begin preparing their practices and patients for that vaccine ?
A: The best way a PCP can prepare for the COVID-19 vaccine is to listen for new developments. There is a lot we do not yet about such a vaccine, such as what the distribution mechanism will be or who will most benefit. By listening, PCPs can be ready to go and offer information to their patients and vaccination clinics on Saturdays or other days and times their offices are usually closed.
- CDC. Influenza. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1819estimates.htm. Accessed Aug. 11, 2020.
- CDC. National Immunization Awareness Month. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/events/niam/index.html. Accessed Aug. 11, 2020.
- Gallup. One in three Americans would not get COVID-19 vaccine. https://news.gallup.com/poll/317018/one-three-americans-not-covid-vaccine.aspx. Accessed Aug. 8, 2020.