Less than half of college students get a flu shot each year

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Less than half of college students get a flu shot each year

By Michael Johnsen - 12/15/2017

Although most college students in the U.S. believe it is important to get an annual influenza vaccine, less than half (46%) say they typically get vaccinated, according to a new National Foundation for Infectious Diseases survey released earlier this month.

College students are at particularly high risk of getting, and spreading, flu because of frequent exposure to high-touch areas like common living spaces and classrooms, and participation in social activities. On U.S. college campuses, flu vaccination rates remain low, falling dramatically short of the 70% Healthy People 2020 target recommendation, NFID reported.

"As a healthcare community, we've long known that college students are profoundly under-vaccinated. This new research indicates that a combination of education and incentives may be an effective way to reach college students who have been apprehensive about vaccination in the past," stated Lisa Ipp, NFID board member. "We now plan to work with academic, health, advocacy and student leaders to share these insights and uncover additional best practices to drive improvements in flu immunization efforts on campuses."

College students would respond to incentives, however, the surey found, with 61% suggesting they would get a flu shot that was at a low cost or not cost to them. A similar number of students reported they would get the flu vaccine if there was free food or gift cards coupled with the vaccination.

Among students who do not typically receive a seasonal flu vaccine, the top reasons for not getting vaccinated include a mix of misperception, fear and skepticism. As many as 36% reported that they were healthy and wouldn't need it; 31% said they don't like needles; and 30% said they don't think the vaccine works. Additionally, nearly three in five students (59%) seem to think that the flu vaccine can cause the flu and 59% don't think it's likely they'll get the flu in the next 12 months.

Family and healthcare professionals all play an important role in flu-related decision-making. When it comes to flu vaccine decision-making, college students note they rely a lot on the advice of a parent/guardian or other family member (48%); healthcare professionals (44%); the student health center on their campus (24%); and friends/peers (20%).

In 2016, NFID convened a College Influenza Stakeholder Summit to discuss the challenges of increasing flu vaccination rates on college campuses. This survey serves as a next step in better understanding the attitudes of college students related to flu.