More people getting flu vaccine this year

Compared with last year more adults getting and intending to get a flu vaccination in 2018-19 flu season

More Americans have or intend to get a flu vaccine this fall, according to a new survey by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication Center for Health and Risk Communication.

The nationwide survey of 1,020 U.S. adults, conducted between Oct. 16 and Nov. 5, 2018, found that 27 percent of respondents indicated they had already received a flu vaccination this fall, with another 21 percent indicating they would definitely receive one and 13 percent indicating they would probably receive one.

Among adults 65 years old and older, 46 percent said they had already received one.

Overall, about one in five respondents said they definitely would not get a flu vaccination in this flu season, while 16 percent said they probably would not do so. In the 2017-2018 influenza season, CDC surveys found 37 percent of all adults received an annual flu vaccination, the lowest level in seven years.

“The initial findings regarding this year’s flu vaccination are positive and encouraging – they suggest things started well,” said Glen Nowak, professor and director of the Grady College CHRC. “One in four adults indicated they were vaccinated by early November and a large majority said it would be very easy to get a flu vaccination if they wanted one. The potential exists that a larger percentage of U.S. adults than last year will ultimately get a flu vaccination in the 2018-19 season and that overall flu vaccination rates in the U.S. may return to the 43 percent to 45 percent seen prior to last season.”

The survey was designed by Nowak and Michael Cacciatore, assistant professor and research director for the Grady College CHRC, and carried out by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Funding for the survey was provided by the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication and Razorfish Health, a healthcare communications agency.

Respondents were sampled from the NORC AmeriSpeaks panel, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. Overall results from this survey have a margin of error of +/- 4.24 percent.

The CDC recommends routine annual influenza vaccination of all persons 6 months of age and older, unless there is a health or medical reason not to do so.

However, while the survey found that 74 percent of respondents said an annual flu vaccination was something that was recommended for someone their age, 13 percent said it was not and 11 percent were unsure. The survey found that 61 percent of those who were aware of the recommendation received a flu vaccination in the past 12 months compared to 14 percent of those who were unaware.

The survey also found strong positive links between flu vaccination and age and receiving a recommendation from one’s doctor or healthcare provider. Two out of three respondents said a physician or healthcare provider told them in the past year that they should receive a flu vaccination.

Overall, 66 percent of those getting such a recommendation got a flu vaccination in the past year compared to 20 percent among those who did not receive a recommendation. With respect to age, 69 percent of respondents 65 years old and older reported receiving a flu vaccination in the past 12 months, compared to 52 percent of 50-64 year olds, 44 percent of 31-49 year olds, and 34 percent of 19-30 year olds.

The CHRC findings are being released during National Influenza Vaccination Week, which is December 2-8, 2018. CDC established NIVW in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.

Studies from many influenza seasons have consistently shown that relatively few people get vaccinated against influenza after the end of November. According to the CDC, more than 160 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed this season.

“These results highlight the importance of efforts like National Influenza Vaccination Week in helping people follow through on their intentions to get vaccinated,” Nowak said. “It’s likely many of those intending to get vaccinated still need to do so, and they need to know that it is not too late.

Sun Joo “Grace” Ahn named Early Career Scholar

Sun Joo “Grace” Ahn, assistant professor of advertising and founding director of Grady’s Games and Virtual Environments Lab, was named the recipient of the Charles B. Knapp Early Career Scholar Award in Social and Behavioral Sciences. She accepted the award during an April 20, 2017, University of Georgia Honors Week ceremony.

The award is named in honor of the University of Georgia’s 20th president and recognizes outstanding accomplishment and evidence of potential future success in scholarship, creative work or research by an early career faculty member in the social and behavioral sciences.

Ahn is a prolific researcher in the fields of virtual reality, augmented reality and how immersive virtual environments influence user attitude and behavior. Much of Ahn’s research focuses on the technology of persuasive messages in health applications and seeing how to make them personally relevant to the subjects, frequently tapping the disciplines of communication, psychology, computer science and public health.

Ahn also serves as a researcher for the Center for Health and Risk Communication.

Public skepticism would likely greet a new Zika vaccine, study says

As scientists race to create a vaccine for the Zika virus, new research from the University of Georgia suggests almost half of Americans wouldn’t be interested in getting the shot even if public health officials recommended it for them.

Only one in three people in an October 2016 nationally representative survey said they would be willing to get a Zika shot if one were available and recommended. More than two out of five respondents said they would not be interested in getting a Zika vaccine, and another quarter were undecided on the question.

One possible explanation for people’s hesitancy to accept a future Zika vaccine is the newness of the vaccine, said Glen Nowak, the lead researcher and director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. The center focuses on health and risk communication-related research, teaching and service.

“The word ‘new’ in front of a vaccine doesn’t work as well as when you put ‘new’ in front of laundry detergent,” he said. “Many people interpret ‘new’ consumer products as things that are better and improved, and thus worth trying. When you put ‘new’ in front of ‘vaccine,’ people think experimental or that there’s not enough experience with it, and they take a ‘wait and see’ approach.”

Less than a quarter of respondents in the survey said they would trust a new Zika vaccine. Conversely, three out of four people said they trusted in the tetanus shot’s effectiveness, and just slightly under half of Americans trust in the seasonal flu shot to be safe and effective.

Initial reluctance among the public to embrace a new Zika vaccine could pose challenges for vaccine manufacturers and public health officials.

“For things like Zika, Ebola and dengue fever, it would be very helpful to have safe and effective vaccines,” Nowak said. “But there needs to be consumer interest and demand to make vaccine research and development investments worthwhile. It is often not enough to have a recommendation to use a vaccine. Public health officials and health care providers need to educate people about the value and benefits of receiving the vaccine so that people for whom it is recommended actually get it.”

Formulating a recommendation for a mosquito-transmitted disease like Zika would likely be difficult because almost all currently recommended vaccines are for diseases that are primarily transmitted from person to person, Nowak said. Additionally, since the vaccines are still in the early stage of development, scientists don’t yet know how a Zika vaccine would be administered or how many doses people would need.

“It’s not likely that a vaccine for a mosquito-transmitted illness would simply be added to the childhood or adult vaccination schedules,” he said. “Rather, it is more likely such a vaccine would be recommended for people who live in Zika-affected areas or people who travel to such areas. That said, Zika can be transmitted by people to other people and mosquitoes can travel in unpredictable ways.”

The research involved a nationally representative survey data conducted in October. The data comes from the National Opinion Research Center’s AmeriSpeak panel. Collaborators on the research include Michael Cacciatore, an assistant professor of public relations, and Maria Len-Rios, an associate professor of public relations, at UGA.