Vaccinations in community settings could improve uptake, public health report finds

A report providing a snapshot of public and professional attitudes to vaccinations reveals that while the public trusts healthcare providers, misinformation regarding vaccinations in the media could be affecting vaccination uptake across the UK. 

Close-up of hand giving vaccination to patient using a syringe

Timing, availability and location of appointments are all barriers to vaccination uptake, a report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has found.

The findings make “a strong argument” for having appointments available in the community, such as at pharmacies, it said.

The report, ‘Moving the Needle: Promoting vaccination uptake across the life course’, was published on 24 January 2019 to provide a “snapshot” of public and professional attitudes to vaccination. It comprises a narrative literature review of relevant articles and three public surveys: one with 2,000 UK adults aged 18 years and over; one with 2,622 UK parents; and one with 216 healthcare professionals working to deliver vaccination programmes in the UK.

The findings show that improving access to vaccinations is “crucial” to tackling inequalities in uptake, particularly those related to ethnicity or socio-economic status.

Although attitudes to vaccines was found to be largely positive — particularly for parents, of whom 91% agreed vaccines were important for their children’s health — social media was identified as a source of negative messages and ‘fake news’ around vaccinations. More than 40% of parents surveyed said that they were often or sometimes exposed to negative messages about vaccines on social media.

Traditional media, such as television and newspapers, also continues to be influential and was highlighted by survey responses from healthcare professionals as impacting the public’s view on vaccines. 

One community pharmacist surveyed said that some of the negative press pharmacists get about the flu vaccination “not being very good this year” impacts uptake. The controversy over claims that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination was linked to autism was one example cited by a number of healthcare professionals. 

However, the survey revealed that the public’s trust in healthcare professionals remains very high, with the opinions of doctors and nurses identified as being the most valued sources of information regarding vaccinations by 94% and 92% of parents, respectively. This was followed by scientific experts and then pharmacy teams and friends and family.

Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the RSPH, said: “Vaccinations are one of the most powerful tools we have for protecting and improving the public’s health, saving millions of lives every year across the globe.

“In the UK, we are fortunate to have a fantastic, world-leading vaccination programme, with excellent levels of coverage. However, we should never be complacent: history has taught us that fear and misinformation about vaccines can cause substantial damage to even the strongest vaccination programmes.”

The RSPH has called for a multi-pronged approach to help improve and maintain uptake of vaccination in the UK, including efforts to protect the public from fake news and negative messages on social media and to offer vaccinations in a more diverse range of locations, such as gyms and high-street pop-ups.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2019, Vol 302, No 7922;302(7922):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20206041

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