Q&A: Campaigning 
against the flu

Michael Szumera, Sanofi Pasteur

Flu vaccinations have received a lot of attention lately, and that’s no surprise, considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that everyone ages 6 months and older get yearly vaccinations, not to mention the H1N1 pandemic flu scare. Now that pharmacists nationwide can administer vaccinations, pharmacy retailers across the country have mobilized to make them available to customers, making it a key part of one of the most significant shifts in health care in a long time, namely the move of many services from the doctor’s office to more accessible venues like pharmacies and retail clinics.

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of French drug maker Sanofi, recently unveiled an effort to promote flu vaccinations that includes advertising and celebrity endorsements. DSN had the opportunity to talk to Sanofi Pasteur director of U.S. public relations and communications Michael Szumera about the campaign.

DSN: There have been numerous efforts to promote flu vaccinations lately, but yours is particularly notable, given the amount of money being spent. What explains the scale of your campaign?
 
Szumera: Sanofi Pasteur believes it is important to educate adult consumers about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options. Our campaign targets adults 18 through 64 years of age because they have some of the lowest immunization rates in the United States. Each year in the United States, 1-in-5 people, or up to 20% of the population gets the flu, and on average, influenza and its related complications result in approximately 226,000 hospitalizations. Combined with pneumonia, influenza is the nation’s ninth leading cause of death. Adults need to better understand that vaccination is safe and effective and the best way to help prevent influenza and its complications.
 
DSN: How do you plan to influence the public?
 
Szumera: The goal of the Fluzone Intradermal vaccine DTC campaign is to raise awareness among adult consumers about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options, including Fluzone Intradermal vaccine. Adults are often overlooked but at risk to contract influenza and spread the virus to others, including persons at high-risk, such as children and older adults.

Components of the program include a national advertising campaign, comprehensive national public awareness program with actor Chris O'Donnell, and local market events with retail pharmacy partners. All activities are focused on educating adults 18 through 64 years of age about the seriousness of influenza and the availability of vaccine options, including Fluzone Intradermal vaccine, to help protect adults against this potentially deadly disease.

DSN: What kinds of roles can pharmacy retailers play in your campaign?

Szumera: Obtaining an annual influenza vaccination is becoming more and more convenient for people. Influenza vaccines are now widely available at retail stores, pharmacies, workplace flu clinics and many more places. Pharmacists play a key role in educating people about the importance of vaccination and the options available.

Increasing access to influenza vaccine is an important step in improving vaccination rates, particularly among adults 18 to 64 years of age. Retail pharmacies provide another option for adults to be vaccinated. Fluzone Intradermal vaccine is available at physician practices, as well as retail pharmacies. The website Fluzone.com allows consumers to search where the vaccine is available in their area.

Low vaccination rates among adults have prompted retail pharmacies — Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS —  to bring the Coop de Quill VacciNation Tour to cities across the country. The retail pharmacies are hosting flu clinic events to bring Fluzone Intradermal vaccine to local residents. At each tour stop event, attendees will have the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with a clinic pharmacist to better understand the importance of annual influenza vaccination, how to protect themselves and their loved ones, and available vaccine options. Attendees can also get immunized at the flu clinics.

DSN: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities in addressing influenza and vaccinations?

Szumera: According to the CDC, everyone 6 months of age and older should receive an annual influenza vaccination, yet on average, only a third of adults in the United States 18 through 64 years of age are immunized, leaving far too many unprotected and at risk for spreading the virus to those at high-risk like young children and older adults.

Results from a recent telephone survey commissioned by Sanofi Pasteur of 663 adults revealed these low rates highlight a disconnect between fear and action, as two out of every three (67%) of adults 18 through 64 years of age said if they had influenza, they fear spreading the virus to their loved ones, yet 3-in-5 (61%) adults said they are not vaccinated annually. In the same survey, 53% of adults 18 through 64 years of age who were vaccinated annually reported that their vaccination experience would be better if the needle was much smaller, and 65% said their experience would be better if access to the flu shot was more convenient.

The opportunity to educate adults about the flu and vaccine options is key. Adults need to understand that the single most important thing they can do to help prevent getting or spreading the flu is to get their annual flu vaccination, and they should speak to their healthcare provider about which vaccination option may be right for them.

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