COVID-19 could drop kids’ vaccination rates

Nearly half of vaccinating parents have doubts about their child receiving a flu vaccination from a pharmacy in the future, new data shows

A new study published in PLOS One has found that overall, parents’ awareness of recommendations around children’s flu vaccines is low.

Professor Helen Marshall, Deputy Director of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, said understanding parental awareness towards recommendations was essential in planning and developing strategies to increase uptake.

But commenting on the study, she warned that parents could skip vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic due to worries about taking their children to see a GP.

“Of 539 South Australian parents surveyed, only 33% were aware of the recommendation that all children under the age of five should receive the influenza vaccine annually,” Professor Marshall said.

“These results are raising serious concerns not just about low awareness of the flu vaccination for children, but that parents may now be reluctant to keep up with vaccination schedules.

“Social distancing during COVID-19 is important – but you still must visit your GP for medical reasons, including to have your children vaccinated, with the option to attend council immunisation clinics.

“I am genuinely concerned that parents will delay vaccines and that immunisation rates will drop; they must not let these slip off their radar.

“If this occurs here in Australia, then we risk outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, mumps and even meningitis.”

Among the study’s findings were that “some parents think that if their child is healthy, and other children are vaccinated against flu, then they don’t need to have their own children vaccinated,” Professor Marshall said.

In terms of the most influential cues to future flu vaccination receipt, 63.8% (n=344) of the parents surveyed said that GP recommendation came out on top.

“This was followed by access to the vaccine at no cost for all children (37.6%, n = 203), greater awareness through mass media (34.1%, n = 184) with a third (32.4%, n = 175) citing the belief in the benefit of the vaccine as a key influence,” the researchers found.

“Excluding parents who did not vaccinate altogether (n = 9), 41.6% (221/530) vaccinating parents were in favour of their child receiving the influenza vaccine from a pharmacy in the future, 48.3% were opposed and 10% undecided.

“Higher support for pharmacy provision came from parents in regional areas (48.8% versus 39.7% metropolitan), those working full (45%) or part time (45.7%) compared with those not working (21.7%) and in parents with lower educational attainment (high school (47.7%), trade 42.2% or bachelor (37.2%)).”

The study also found that accessibility is a problem for many families.

“Parents who delayed or excluded vaccines reported finding vaccination services difficult to access.

“Additionally, that two in five parents would be willing for their child to receive the influenza vaccine from a pharmacy is also worth highlighting. Although Australian pharmacists began administering the influenza vaccine from 2014 (with variation across jurisdictions), only some states have recently endorsed delivery to children as young as 10 years of age.

“In contrast, pharmacists in several countries including Argentina, the United Kingdom (UK), Canada, Portugal, New Zealand and the USA (United States of America) have been administering the influenza vaccine for almost a decade. With Canada, Argentina, the UK and several states in the USA also endorsing pharmacist administration to young children, with deviation in the minimum age requirement across countries.

“In order to improve access, alternative delivery sites should be given consideration. Although generally Australian children do not start schooling until five years of age, one delivery option could be school-based influenza vaccination programs, such as those implemented in the UK and the USA, delivery in childcare or pre-school programs or broader access through community clinics at extended times which would improve access overall, particularly during the peak influenza vaccination season.”

The study can be accessed here.

Earlier this month, the Australian Medical Association also issued a statement asking Australians not to let the COVID-19 pandemic prevent them from taking steps to maintain their everyday health, citing vaccination as a significant concern and saying consultations had already dropped off.

At the time Anthony Tassone, president of the Pharmacy Guild’s Victorian branch, told the AJP that in services which can only be accessed in person, such as vaccination, pharmacy is key.

“There are reports that community pharmacies have already administered more flu vaccinations in 2020 to date than the entire winter of 2019, in what was considered a ‘bad flu season’.”

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