Text messages increase flu shot rates

Nov. 16, 2017

Text messages were a low-cost and modestly effective way of increasing seasonal influenza vaccine rates, according to findings recently published in Annals of Family Medicine.

“Historically, we know vaccination rates are low in some groups of patients who are at high-risk for severe influenza infection, including pregnant women and young children,” Annette K. Regan, PhD, MPH, of the School of Public Health at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, told Healio Family Medicine. “We wanted to see whether a relatively low-resource intervention could be used by primary care physicians to improve uptake of influenza vaccines among patients who stand to benefit the most through annual influenza vaccination.”

Researchers identified 12,354 participants in several high-risk population groups in Australia who had not received the influenza vaccine. Six weeks after influenza vaccination season began, half of those participants were randomly assigned to receive one text message reminding them to get the vaccine. RRs for vaccination about 3 months after the text reminder was sent were determined using log-binomial regression models.

Regan and colleagues found that 12% of those who received the reminder were vaccinated within the approximate 3-month window vs. 9% of those who did not get the text. It took 29 text messages costing 12 cents each to ensure one additional high-risk person was immunized.

In addition, children whose parents received the reminder were 2.4 times more likely to receive at least one dose of seasonal influenza vaccine vs. children whose parents did not get the text. These reminders also led to increased uptake among patients with a history of influenza vaccination, and among patients at high risk because of age: Younger than 5 years and older than 65 years without a pre-existing medical condition.

The text message’s content, its timing, and the reliability of its originator may also play a role in how well the reminder encourages influenza vaccine rates, according to researchers.

“These results are important, since we know influenza can be a very serious disease in certain patient groups, and unfortunately vaccination rates are poor in some of these groups,” Regan said, adding that the study is the most comprehensive randomized controlled trial of text message reminders regarding influenza vaccination to date.

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