THE BLOG
11/07/2018 10:01 EST | Updated 11/07/2018 10:02 EST

An HIV Vaccine Study May Explain Why So Few Canadians Get The Flu Shot

The results suggest more is needed than widespread media campaigns, kiosks in drugstores or public clinics.

The flu vaccine is once again available and as usual, Canadians are being urged to get the shot. Yet, like most years, fewer than half of us will roll up our sleeves. This unsettling reality doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

The reasons behind the lack of uptake are many. Some are health-related, such as allergies, being sick and other pre-existing conditions. Others avoid the shot for non-scientific reasons, including fear and religion. But these individuals combined amount to a small minority of Canada's population. Figuring out why the rest choose to go without has been for the most part a challenge.

Research into why Canadians may be hesitant to get the flu shot has suggested one of the major problems happens to be a matter of trust. Many people simply do not believe the flu shot is the right choice. No matter how much campaigns may say otherwise, the message doesn't seem to be heard.

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Now that may change thanks to a recent study out of Kenya. A team of researchers have identified an interesting phenomenon with respect to vaccines. They may have figured out why a majority of people may be willing to get a shot but avoid it when the time comes.

In this study, the Kenyan group were not looking at perceptions of the flu vaccination. Instead, they were examining how people felt about an HIV vaccine. Although one has yet to be approved, trials are occurring in different parts of the world including Kenya. The team hoped to find out how many people out of the 100 enrolled would show a willingness to take part in a hypothetical vaccine trial, and then how many would back away. The authors also hoped to find out why people made that decision.

Right from the start, they lost six who simply didn't want to have anything to do with a trial. The reasons were based on fear, family and indecisiveness. Of the remaining 94 people who were willing, about a third felt they were helping the world in an altruistic way, another third felt they were helping themselves while the final third were simply curious.

The next step was to ask the 94 people to confirm they wish to be part of the trial. Although the authors expected some people to back out, they were surprised to see only 26 agree to join. This meant a loss of three-quarters of the participants.

While willingness may be strong in an individual, it may not be able to overtake the factors that lead to hesitancy

But that wasn't the worst of it. When the time came to enrol, the number dropped again. Only 15 of the 26 signed on.

When those who dropped out were asked why they didn't follow through with the trial, a fascinating revelation was made. The same reasons that kept the original six from joining were mentioned. The factors of fear, family and a lack of being able to commit rushed to the top of the mind, and prevented the individuals from agreeing or joining formally.

For the authors, this surprising outcome revealed an interesting perspective on human nature in relation to clinical trials and by extension, to vaccines. While willingness may be strong in an individual, it may not be able to overtake the factors that lead to hesitancy and/or refusal. This could explain why mass recruitment campaigns may not be as effective as believed. While these are great at identifying willing people, they are not effective in getting people to the next steps. Those require more targeted means, such as community involvement and word of mouth.

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As for Canada's vaccination efforts, the results suggest more is needed than widespread media campaigns, kiosks in drugstores or public clinics, all of which garner willingness. Instead, means are needed to overcome the same hurdles that keep the minority from getting the shot, namely fear, indecision and the combination of families and religion.

If you happen to be willing to get the flu shot, pursue that willingness. There are many options available to you now. If you have any doubts that creep up, make sure to talk with the health provider and ask the questions that concern you. Don't feel pressure to reach an agreement either. The evidence is strong enough that it will come.

Vaccination is a personal choice and should be made with confidence and trust. While we all could use more people taking the vaccine, making sure you are happy with the decision is the best approach. Not only will you feel good, but it may help ensure you roll up your sleeves again next year.

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