Campus News

Personal experience acts as major driver in decision for or against flu vaccination

Convincing someone to receive the annual flu vaccine goes beyond messaging and well-written public service announcements, new UGA research finds. The study, led by Glen Nowak, outlines both the barriers and facilitators that motivate people in their flu vaccine decisions.

“One of the most important findings was that personal experiences mattered a lot, both for people who got an annual flu shot on a regular basis and for those who didn’t,” said Nowak, the director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “I think that is an important reminder that it is really hard to overcome personal experience with persuasive communications. A lot of time, communicators think they can just educate someone or just persuade them to take action, but that isn’t always the case. It may take a better product or a new and different personal experience.”

According to the 2013 National Health Interview Survey—the most recent report used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—29.6 percent of adults ages 18 to 49 receive the flu vaccination. That number increases to 46.5 percent for adults ages 50 to 64 and 67.9 percent for adults older than 65. The researchers behind the study, published in the June issue of Vaccine and presented at the National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit in May, wanted to know why those vaccination percentages weren’t higher.

To answer that question, Nowak and Kelli Bursey at the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education analyzed 29 flu vaccine-related communication research reports sponsored by the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases between 2000 and 2013. They then identified reasons that led to people getting annual flu vaccinations and reasons they did not get vaccinated for the flu.

“Overall, these studies consistently found that people need to see flu as a real and serious health threat-either through personal experience or communication messages and materials-to get vaccinated,” Nowak said. “They also consistently found that misperceptions, such as believing the vaccine causes the flu, remain and are sometimes held by health care providers.”

The 29 studies analyzed and summarized as part of qualitative meta-analysis included participants who were health care workers, parents and people with chronic illnesses.