Influenza Risks Well Understood
6 September 2002
Influenza Risks Well Understood
The level of public awareness about the risks associated with influenza is good, preliminary results of a Ministry of Health funded study have shown.
Virologist and survey spokesman Dr Lance Jennings said early data from the National Influenza and Pneumococcal Immunisation Attitudes Study indicated over 90 percent of surveyed people aged 65 years and over knew that influenza was a serious disease.
"It appears older people understand that influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalisation or death. This is reflected in survey responses, and in the percentage of people surveyed who said they had taken advantage of a free influenza vaccination last year."
The Ministry of Health funds influenza vaccinations for people aged 65 years and over as well as others including children with certain chronic medical conditions.
"We usually get 60-70% of the eligible older population choosing to be immunised and we would like to see that increase to 75%. The good news is that around 75 percent of people aged 65 and over surveyed had taken advantage of the free vaccination last year."
"We did this study to see how patient and health care provider attitudes, and concerns, might be influencing uptake of the influenza immunisation."
The survey targeted doctors, practice nurses, and people aged 65 years and over from Northland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Canterbury.
Dr Jennings said while a descriptive analysis was all that was available from the survey at this stage a number of positive trends were appearing.
"Last year it appears there was a good percentage of immunisation providers who themselves were immunised."
About 68% of GPs and 65% of practice nurses had been immunised against influenza in 2001.
"It is encouraging to see health professionals protecting themselves against influenza and it sends out positive messages to their patients. Previous studies have shown that health professional recommendations are still the most important factor when patients are making a decision."
Other preliminary survey information showed around 90 percent of health professionals disagreed with the statement that healthy older people do not need the influenza injection as they rarely got sick.
"Those GPs and practice nurses are correct, vaccination is the best protection against influenza for all people aged 65 years and over even if they are fit and active."
"However, age-old myths about influenza still exist and there is a gap in the knowledge of a small number of health professionals which we will continue to address."
Dr Jennings said the National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group, which is funded by the Ministry of Health and of which he is a part of, recently focussed much of its efforts on educating people about influenza.
The group had developed a variety of user-friendly resources for health practitioners and the public - some of which address myths that are still barriers to people taking up the vaccination.
Dr Jennings said the survey asked health professionals about the strategies they ranked as essential for improving the uptake of influenza immunisation.
"Early feedback indicated GPs and practice nurses would like to see an increase in the Government subsidy paid to them for providing the vaccination."
"Health professionals could use the extra money to put more effort into recalling those eligible for vaccine."
Dr Jennings said the Ministry is reviewing the influenza immunisation subsidy.
The National Influenza and Pneumococcal Immunisation Attitudes Study The National Influenza and Pneumococcal Immunisation Attitudes Study was commissioned by the National Influenza Immunisation Strategy Group and funded by the Ministry of Health. It was conducted by a group of experts from the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Within each of the four surveyed regions; Northland, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Christchurch, a postal survey of 150 general practitioners and 150 practice nurses, and a telephone survey of 1000 people aged 65 years and over was carried out.
The postal/telephone survey asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with a range of statements about influenza and influenza immunisation, and also asked them about their own vaccination status.
Health professionals were also asked questions about strategies for improving vaccine uptake, and the people aged 65 and over were asked what barriers there were to immunisation uptake.
319 (58%) of GPs responded 271 (around 49%) of practice nurses responded 1558 (39%) of people aged 65 years and over responded
The survey was carried out November 2001 to February 2002.
The full influenza study will be available at the end of the year. The full pneumococcal study will be available next year.