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Too few over 65 year olds get flu jabs

Friday 6 May 2005

Too few over 65 year olds get flu jabs

Myths and misunderstandings among the over-65s about the influenza vaccine are resulting in too few taking up the offer of a free annual jab, according to a study in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal.

The influenza vaccination became available free-of-charge to people aged 65 years and over in 1997. Since then the number of people being vaccinated in this age group has increased from 39 percent to 59 percent in 2000, but is still lower than the Ministry of Health’s national coverage target of 75 percent.

The study, by researchers Cheryl Brunton, Rob Weir and Lance Jennings, found that the reasons for the less than ideal vaccination rate included that many older people believed the vaccine was unnecessary if they were generally healthy, concern about side effects following vaccination, and some patients also thought influenza could be acquired from vaccination (although this is not the case).

In fact, even healthy elderly people benefit from the protection vaccination offers, minor reactions are uncommon and serious side effects are rare, say the researchers. Patients’ beliefs that vaccination did not prevent serious disease or reduce their risk of developing complications from influenza were also associated with lower vaccine uptake.

“Influenza is seen by many people as a relatively mild illness, but it may have severe consequences and older people are more likely to experience them,” said NZMA Chairman Dr Ross Boswell.

“Each year, in the New Zealand over-65 age group, one in 3000 will need hospital admission for influenza, and one in 10,000 will die of it. Immunisation is a safe and effective way of preventing this illness and death. We urge older New Zealanders to take the opportunity to protect their health by being vaccinated annually."

To find out the reasons for the vaccination rate, the researchers canvassed the opinions of general practitioners, practice nurses, and a number of over-65s. They found that while most of the groups were generally well informed about influenza, its complications, and the effectiveness of vaccination, there was still misinformation and beliefs which discouraged too many over-65s from being vaccinated.

In order to improve vaccination coverage, most GPs and practice nurses supported increasing the vaccination subsidy, providing wider public education about the vaccination, and improving the use of recall systems. The latter two strategies are already part of current influenza immunisation campaigns.

ENDS

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