During last year’s flu season, fewer than half of Americans (40 percent) received the flu vaccine,1 resulting in 25 million illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths.2 Despite the risk of becoming seriously ill from a respiratory illness—and recommendations from the CDC and physicians to get immunized—the majority of Americans still opt out. Why?
Five Common Patient Misconceptions
Many patients have misconceptions about the flu vaccine’s effectiveness, questions about whether they need a flu shot and confusion about when to get vaccinated. Here are five common patient concerns, and information providers can share to help educate patients and encourage them to get vaccinated:
Myth 1: “The flu shot doesn’t work.” The flu is unpredictable and every season is different. While last season’s flu vaccine wasn’t as effective because of the emergence of influenza A (H3N2), this season’s vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.3
Fact: During the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC estimated the flu vaccine prevented 5 million people from getting sick and 70,000 from being hosptialized4. A new study this year reported the vaccine significantly reduces children’s risk of dying from the flu: 51 percent for children with underlying conditions and 65 percent among healthy children.5
Myth 2: “The flu shot will make me sick.” The flu vaccine given with a needle is made in two ways: with an inactivated virus or with no virus at all.
Fact: The most common side effects from the flu shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the injection site. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur, but they usually only last 1-2 days.6
Myth 3: “I got the flu shot last year, so I’m immune.” The influenza viruses circulating typically change every year, and in some cases can change during the flu season.
Fact: A person’s immune protection from the vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get optimal protection against the flu.7
Myth 4: “It’s too late to get a flu shot now.” The number of people getting vaccinated drops after November, but influenza activity most often peaks in February and the flu season can last into May.8
Fact: The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial and patients should be encouraged to get flu shots throughout the flu season, even into January or later.9
Myth 5: “I can’t get a flu shot…” The CDC recommends that everyone get a flu shot including babies older than 6 months of age, pregnant women, people over 65 and especially people with certain health conditions.
Fact: There are several flu vaccines on the market this season designed to make the flu shot more effective, especially for older adults. However, the nasal spray vaccine is not recommended because of concerns about its effectiveness.10
How to Address Patient Concerns
A recent West study on the patient experience found that patients rely on their doctor’s expertise to help them understand the range of treatment options and provide clarity on all services.11
The majority of patients (85%) want more communication from their providers, which they say would increase patient satisfaction and long-term loyalty.12
The good news for providers is that there are many ways to communicate with patients – appointment reminders, emails, surveys, on-hold messages and websites – so physicians no longer have to rely on the office visit as the only contact. These tools can help communicate the facts to patients and encourage them to get vaccinated and stay healthy.
1 CDC. Influenza (Flu): National Early-Season Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, November 2016.
2 CDC. Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Averted by Vaccination in the United States, Updated April 19, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/2015-16.htm
3 CDC. Vaccine Effectiveness- How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?, Updated September 14, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm
4 CDC. The Benefits of Flu Vaccinations 2015-2016 Infographic, Updated February 15, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm
5 CDC Study Finds Flu Vaccine Saves Children’s Lives, Updated April 3, 2017. www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p0403-flu-vaccine.html
6 CDC. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines: Can a flu shot give you the flu?,” Updated August 28, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm
7 CDC. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines: Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?,” Updated August 28, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm
8 CDC. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines: Is it too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving (or the end of November)?,” Updated August 28, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm
9 CDC. Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2016-2017 Influenza Season: When and how often should I get vaccinated? Updated September 11, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2016-2017.htm
10 CDC. Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2016-2017 Influenza Season: New flu information for 2017-2018, Updated September 11, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2016-2017.htm
12 Ibid., pages 3-5.
13 CDC. Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths Averted by Vaccination in the United States, Updated April 19, 2017. www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/2015-16.htm