I know this older guy at my gym — I call him “The Professor,” mostly because he used to teach journalism, but also because it’s more fun to say and easier to remember than his actual name. He’s 85 now, and he says if he doesn’t get to the club to swim laps and sit in the steam room at least three times a week, he feels like he’s doing something wrong. He says he feels the same way about flu shots and all vaccinations for that matter.
I like The Professor a lot. We’re both journalists, both gym rats. We also both grew up in the city, and our mothers — despite the 43-year gap in our ages — both saved their money to send us away to summer camp to keep off us out of trouble.
But that’s where our experiences begin to differ. I remember the summer we had the big lice outbreak, and we had to shave a bunch of kids’ heads and shampoo the others with Quell. He remembers the year a polio outbreak shut down his camp and sent all of the kids home early.
The Professor is a living, breathing example of something Raymond Fabius, chief medical officer at Thomson Reuters healthcare business unit, commented upon in the context of his company’s recent survey regarding consumers’ opinions about vaccines. “Ironically, these surveys are a testament to the effectiveness of vaccines — older people remember what illnesses like polio did to cripple and kill patients, but the younger generation has never seen someone with polio.”
It’s frightening what people actually think vaccines will do to them. According to the Thomson Reuters survey, 24% of people say their opinions of vaccines have changed in the past five years, and among them, 59% said their views on vaccines have become less favorable. More than 26% expressed apprehensiveness over vaccine safety, with the highest level of worry among parents with children under 18 years old (30.8%), and those ages 65 years and older with the least concern (18.5%).
According to the research in which more than 100,000 households were polled between Aug. 1 and 16:
- 47% worry that vaccines could impact long-term health;
- 46% worry about side effects;
- 21% believe vaccines can cause autism;
- 9% believe vaccines can be linked to cancer;
- 7% believe vaccines can be linked to diabetes, and;
- 6% believe vaccines can be linked to heart disease.
Another survey, conducted by the University of Michigan, found that 1-in-10 parents use a different vaccination schedule for their children from the one recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most commonly delayed vaccine among this group: meales-mumps-rubella (45%).
So it can’t be too hard to imagine that cases of the measles in the United States are at their highest levels in 15 years, with some 212 cases in 2011, according to research presented in late October at the Annual Meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. In 13% of these cases, the infected was younger than 1 year old. Since that’s too young for a baby to get their first MMR — recommended between 12 months and 18 months, according to the CDC — it means those infants were exposed to someone else that wasn’t up to date on their vaccinations.
Retail pharmacy has done a strong job of improving immunization rates in this country; so have retail clinics. Last year, more than 18% of adults got their flu shot in a retail setting, according to the CDC. That’s up from about 7% five years ago. That’s an important contribution to our nation’s public health. Clearly, you’re making a dent here.
Studies like this give you an idea where to focus your messaging efforts — and to which segments of your customers. People like The Professor tend to get it.
Rob Eder is the editor in chief of The Drug Store News Group, publishers of Drug Store News, DSN Pharmacy Practice, PharmacyTech News, Specialty Pharmacy and Retail Clinician magazines. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.