How to Address Concerns About the Influenza Vaccine

Infection Control Today, Volume 27, Issue 1

Reluctance to receive the influenza vaccine continues despite years-long campaigns to increase vaccination rates. William Schaffner, MD, speaks to ICT® about how health care workers can respond to the most common questions and assure of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

Every autumn and winter, the media is filled with infectious disease leaders urging everyone from babies older than 6 months to adults to receive the influenza vaccine. Yet, despite the vaccination campaigns for influenza, COVID-19, and even pneumonia, the rates of vaccinations are still disappointingly low.

To discuss these rates and ideas on how persuade more people to receive the vaccinations, Infection Control Today® (ICT®) spoke to William Schaffner, MD, Medical Director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and an award-winning leader in infectious diseases, about what health care workers can say to address the questions and concerns that patients have about receiving the vaccines.

During the interview, Schaffner also spoke about the data NFID released in October, 2022, that showed that Americans are sharply divided over the influenza vaccination, in spite of experts warning of a potentially severe influenza season ahead. This survey of US adult knowledge, attitudes, and practices toward influenza and pneumococcal disease also revealed: Americans expressed significant concerns about the safety of getting influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, a growing number of Americans say they will consider masking to fight influenza, and concerning data about intention to vaccinate among individuals at high risk for influenza complications.

The vaccine is made up of fragments of the virus, they can't put themselves together and make a[n influenza] virus in your body and give you influenza.

In this exclusive interview with ICT®, Schaffner answers the most common questions about getting the influenza vaccination. “One of the things that cannot happen…is you cannot get [influenza] from the [influenza] vaccine. That's a myth that's out there, and it's remarkably persistent. It doesn't go away. But it's not true. The vaccine is made up of fragments of the virus, they can't put themselves together and make a[n influenza] virus in your body and give you influenza. That's never happened, and it certainly doesn't happen now. So I can reassure them about that."

Schaffner also said to remind the patient “that millions of people have gotten an influenza vaccine.” He said to be make it personal to the patient, “I say, ‘I've been vaccinated, my wife has, everybody in the office has been vaccinated, [and] we want to make sure that this measure of protection is available for every single one of our patients.’ So be very gentle, acknowledge that their concerns are real and common. They feel relaxed, then they can talk with you about it.” Finally, he suggested, “Then bridge back to the patient [by saying], ‘We want to make sure that this measure of protection is available for all the patients who come here.’”