Low parental awareness of children’s influenza vaccine recommendations

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

23/04/2020 2:35:47 PM

One third of parents don’t know that children should be vaccinated for influenza, and GPs play a critical role in the conversation.

Vaccination being administered
It is important that parents feel confident taking their children to a GP during the pandemic, Professor Helen Marshall says.

More children under the age of five are hospitalised with influenza in Australia than any other vaccine-preventable disease.
Concerning new findings from the University of Adelaide have revealed that out of 539 South Australian parents surveyed, only 33% were aware of the recommendation that children should be vaccinated for influenza.
Professor Helen Marshall, Deputy Director of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, told newsGP understanding parental awareness is essential in planning and developing strategies to increase uptake, and that the role of GPs is ‘critical’. 
‘We know from many studies that have now been published that parents put their absolute trust in GPs as people that are very credible, and [they] really are the ones that influence the decisions around receiving immunisations,’ Professor Marshall said.
‘It’s really about having that opportunity whenever a child’s taken to the GP to have that discussion not only about the routine immunisations, but also about influenza vaccination. It’s a bit more complex because it’s required every year, whereas routine immunisations are a once off.’
Professor Marshall says that some parents are not aware of the risks influenza poses to children.
Compared to adults, infants and children younger than five years are at a higher risk of contracting severe influenza infections that require hospitalisation, with 10% of those hospitalised requiring care in an intensive care unit.

‘We also found 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.
‘This is untrue and dangerous. Healthy children die from flu every year and we need to make sure they are protected.’
Meanwhile, there is particular concern around vaccination rates this flu season, given the crossover with the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Marshall says parents may be reluctant to keep up with vaccination schedules, as GP clinics report a major drop in patient numbers due to transmission fears.
While telehealth is an opportunity to continue delivering care to patients, Professor Marshall says it is vital that parents feel confident knowing they can still visit their GP for immunisations.
‘Social distancing during COVID-19 is important, but there is a risk of course that parents are worried about taking children out during this period,’ she said.
‘The clear message from government is that you still need to see GPs for anything health-related. So it’s really about raising the awareness.
‘It’s so important that we really maintain those high immunisation coverage rates, [for] which Australia is really well-known around the world. We want to maintain that during this period.’
In addition to influenza, Professor Marshall says there are fears if parents skip vital vaccinations for their children that there may be disease outbreaks, such as measles, mumps and even meningitis.
‘That’s the last thing you want, just because people are hesitant about taking their children to the GP,’ she said.
In 2020, the eligibility criteria for free influenza vaccines through the National Immunisation Program (NIP) include all infants and children aged from six months to under five years.  
The World Health Organization (WHO) and national immunisation technical advisory groups have endorsed ‘business as usual’ regarding immunisation delivery during the pandemic.
‘We’ve got COVID-19 very well controlled in Australia, we just want to make sure that people are still engaging with GPs not only for their own health, but particularly for immunisations,’ Professor Marshall said.
‘We have to make sure as many people and children as possible are protected against flu, again to assist with the whole COVID-19 strategy of keeping people well and out of hospital.’
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