One in Three Parents Plan to Skip Flu Shots for Their Children This Year

Only one-third of parents believe it is more important for their children to receive an influenza (flu) vaccine this year than previous years, according to a recent national poll.

Only one-third of parents believe it is more important for their children to receive an influenza (flu) vaccine this year than previous years, according to the CS Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine.

Public health experts have been emphasizing the critical importance of children receiving flu shots this year due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. However, that message is perhaps not being heard by those with the power to most effectively protect the health of children in the United States this flu season.

"Our report finds that even during the pandemic, some parents don't see the flu vaccine as more urgent or necessary. This heightens concerns about how the onset of flu season may compound challenges in managing COVID-19," said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, MPH, an associate research scientist in the department of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, in a press release.

The Mott Poll report is based on responses from 1992 parents of children aged 2 to 18 years. The parents were surveyed during the month of August this year.

The poll found that the families who were the least likely to vaccinate their children this year also did not have their children vaccinated the previous year. Of these parents, less than one-third reported that they are likely to have their children vaccinated this year.

In contrast, among parents who had their children vaccinated this year, 96% said they plan to have their children vaccinated this year as well.

"A key challenge for public health officials is how to reach parents who do not routinely seek seasonal flu vaccination for their child," Clark said in a press release. "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."

The Mott Poll did find that 1 potential impetus for pursuing vaccination was a strong recommendation for vaccination from the child’s regular health care provider. However, the poll also found that less than half of parents say their children’s provider has recommended their children get vaccinated this year.

Clark explained this may be caused by the increase in telehealth visits and the decrease of in-person visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This change may have reduced the number of opportunities that providers have to make strong recommendations about flu vaccination for children and to answer parents' questions about flu vaccine safety and efficacy.

Clark noted that a way to manage this change is for providers to send reminder postcards or post website banners that emphasize the importance of children getting the flu vaccine this year in particular.

However, another reason parents noted hesitancy regarding the flu vaccine in the poll was due to their concerns about adverse effects or beliefs that the flu vaccine isn't necessary or effective.

"There is a lot of misinformation about the flu vaccine, but it is the best defense for children against serious health consequences of influenza and the risk of spreading it to others," Clark said.

Additionally, the poll found that 14% of parents are not going to have their children vaccinated due to their fears of exposing their children to COVID-19 by taking them in to get vaccinated.

"Most child health providers have made changes to their office environment to keep children safe during office visits and vaccinations," Clark said. "Parents who are concerned about COVID exposure should contact their child's provider to learn about what types of precautions have been put in place."

Following reports from Michigan’s state health department and the CDC regarding the drop in overall rates of childhood vaccinations in the state this year, the potential for the magnification of public health concerns regarding kids catching vaccine-preventable diseases is stronger this year than any previous year, according to the press release.

"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," Clark said. "Children should get the flu vaccine not only to protect themselves but to prevent the spread of influenza to family members and those who are at higher risk of serious complications."

REFERENCE

1 in 3 parents plan to skip flu shots for their kids during COVID-19 pandemic. Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan Medicine — University of Michigan; September 28, 2020. eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/mm-u-1i3092220.php. Accessed September 29, 2020.