We may still be trying to encourage patients to receive their COVID-19 vaccination, but it is just as important this year to focus on the influenza vaccine.
While the level of flu activity last season was low in comparison to previous years, the Centers for Disease Control is predicting this year’s flu season will occur sooner and likely be more severe.
Last year’s flu season appears to have been less severe, with only .2 percent of U.S. specimens testing positive.
“This is likely due to the COVID-19 mitigation measures like increased hand washing, wearing masks, physical distancing, better ventilation, and so many schools and workplaces being virtual throughout the season,” says Tessa Hastings, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Clinical Pharmacy Outcomes and Sciences Department for the UofSC College of Pharmacy.
She also points to the fact that a record number of influenza vaccine doses were administered last year at 193.8 million doses, compared to just 174.5 million doses the previous year. In South Carolina, slightly more than 50 percent of South Carolinians ages six months and older received the flu shot.
The CDC recommends anyone over the age of six months get a flu shot. There are flu shots approved for use in children as young as 6 months old and flu shots approved for use in adults 65 years and older. Flu shots are also recommended for pregnant people and people with certain chronic health conditions.
A strong recommendation from a health care professional, including pharmacists, is one of the best predictors of patient acceptance of a vaccine.
Hastings, whose research focuses on implementation of pharmacy-based immunization services, uses that research to find ways to improve access to and confidence in vaccinations.
“Pharmacists play a significant role in influenza vaccination efforts here in South Carolina and across the U.S.,” Hastings adds. “A strong recommendation from a health care professional, including pharmacists, is one of the best predictors of patient acceptance of a vaccine.”
Hastings suggests that pharmacists should identify their patients who have not yet received the influenza vaccine and start a conversation with those patients.
“If a patient seems hesitant, ask questions and find out what the patient knows about the vaccine,” she says. “Listening reflectively and asking permission to share information, while displaying empathy, allows for a positive discussion."
While she says every patient may not initially give consent, an empathic approach leaves the conversation open and provides the opportunity to broach the subject again down the road.