Taxi Cabs: Vehicles for Flu Transmission?

Taxis may not only be a reliable mode of transportation for urbanites-they may also be frequent transmitters of the flu virus.

Taxis may not only be a reliable mode of transportation for urbanites—they may also be frequent transmitters of the flu virus.

Around 12% of New York City taxi riders are older than 70, sedentary, and at high risk for chronic disease and influenza. With 233,000 of these US taxi drivers having close contact with riders, taxis may be breeding grounds for communicable diseases.

Thus, immunizing taxi drivers could protect the drivers and their riders.

Researchers have not conducted intervention-based studies targeting influenza vaccination among taxi drivers—until now. A team from the University of Chicago published the results of their vaccination efforts of taxi drivers in the Journal of Community Health this month.

The researchers targeted taxi drivers at Chicago-area airport taxi holding lots. They were assisted by Spanish translators and had materials in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

The study used volunteer clinicians, and clinic support staff included nursing staff, physicians, physician residents, marketing personnel, and administrative support from the University of Chicago.

The researchers held 1-day mass immunization clinics at O’Hare International and Midway Airports, and clinicians immunized 545 taxi drivers (11% of approached taxis) in October 2012 and 354 taxi drivers (7%) in October 2013.

Immunization rates were lower in 2013 because the 1-day event occurred on a cold, rainy day, and the researchers suspected that the weather discouraged vaccination.

It is also probable that the researchers immunized more than the 11% and 7% reported, since drivers make multiple trips to the airport daily.

Between 2% and 8% of vaccinated drivers were over 65 years old—a high risk population for the flu.

Reasons for vaccination refusal included vaccine safety concerns, lack of perceived individual risk for acquiring influenza, and concerns of acquiring the flu from immunization.

“While a number of commercial drivers declined vaccination, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with drivers frequently expressing appreciation for offering preventive medical services at a convenient location to a population self-characterized as overlooked,” the researchers noted.

The study authors called for vaccination education directed at taxi drivers to encourage higher coverage rates.

“Next steps to improving immunization coverage among this population should incorporate robust education initiatives to overcome misconceptions and vaccine hesitancy in order to protect taxi drivers and their passengers from vaccine-preventable illness,” the researchers concluded.