“It is estimated that in a given year an average of 12,200 hospitalizations related to influenza may occur; and that approximately 3,500 deaths attributable to influenza occur annually.”
“All Canadians are encouraged to get vaccinated against the flu to protect themselves and their families as vaccination is the best protection available against flu.”
Every year public health authorities exhort the public to get the flu vaccine, and every year they fret about why so few people actually get it. An Environics survey for the federal government pegged the rate at 37% in 2006 for adults.
So, if the vaccine is effective at reducing the risk of flu, why aren’t people getting it? In talking to people who have no problems getting other shots, what usually comes out is “I got the shot once, and I still got sick.”
The problem: Expectations
The word “vaccine”, for most other vaccines, implies an overwhelmingly high efficacy rate. For example:
The efficacy of a single dose of measles-containing vaccine given at 12 or 15 months of age is estimated to be 85% to 95%. With a second dose, efficacy in children approaches 100%.
Compare to flu shot efficacy:
“In healthy children (equal to or younger than 18 or 16 years old) a systematic review and meta-analyses showed that efficacy of influenza vaccine against laboratory confirmed influenza ranged from 59% to 82%, efficacy against serologically-confirmed influenza ranged from 54% to 63% and efficacy against clinical illness ranged between 33% to 36%.”
Notice that efficacy for clinical illness (i.e: People who were sick, but perhaps not flu specifically) was just 33% – 36%. So in fact, Joe, Jane, and Jaigupta Public are correct. Since they don’t know whether they have flu or just “clinical illness” or actual flu, they impression is still “I got the shot, and I still got sick.”
So how do we fix this?
Stop talking about the “flu shot” because that doesn’t reflect what the public thinks a shot does. In the public’s mind, shots have 95%+ efficacy. The flu vaccine, although very efficacious in reducing flu, is not as efficacious in reducing disease as most other things called “shots” or “vaccines.”
So the flu vaccine needs a rebranding. Just call it an immune booster. Which it is.
And revised messaging. How about:
“The anti-flu immune booster cuts your flu risk in half. Get it free today at your pharmacy.”
Let me put it this way, if there was some drug or spray which reduced your chances of getting flu by even 50%, you’d get it right?
That’s my theory.