August 2018 | Issue 37
Fighting flu with education

research_1 (Custom) (2).jpg"I’m not travelling overseas” was one of the common reasons elderly people cited when asked why they don’t take the influenza vaccine, according to a recent survey conducted by LKCMedicine Class of 2021 Teo Liang Ming. Yet those aged 65 and above account for the most influenza-related hospitalisations.

Liang Ming undertook this qualitative clinical study of elderly people’s perspective on the influenza vaccine for his 11-month-long NTU Undergraduate Research Experience on Campus (URECA) project. Among the 15 over-65s whom he interviewed in Geylang Polyclinic, he found that six had never taken the influenza vaccine, three had taken it before but had lapsed, and six had been taking the vaccine regularly. Despite programmes that have reduced the cost of vaccines and increased access, uptake in this group remains low,
said Liang Ming, who was supervised by LKCMedicine Professor of Family Medicine & Primary Care Helen Smith.

The 2013 National Health Surveillance Survey showed that only 15.2 per cent of people aged 50 and older have taken the influenza vaccine.

“This misconception about travel is a double-edged sword. It makes people take up the vaccine when they travel, but at the same time, if they don’t travel, they don’t want to take it,” said Liang Ming.

This duality is reflected widely across responses with 13 out of 15 respondents offering mixed reasons when sharing their decision-making process. This points to an untapped capacity for positive change.

“If we target educational efforts to address specific barriers or misconceptions that the elderly currently have, we can likely improve vaccine uptake rates,” said Liang Ming.

According to his data, the most influential people to deliver this educational message are healthcare professionals, as 11 of his respondents indicated that a prompt from a healthcare worker already had or would have persuaded them to take the vaccine. This influence was even evident in those who refused
the vaccine. “In five of the six refusers I interviewed, their trust in advice from healthcare professionals even outweighed their initial reservations about the vaccine,” said Liang Ming.

His study, which he presented at the 2018 Discover URECA Poster Competition held on 16 March, garnered
him the most votes from his fellow URECA participants in the biomedical and medicine category.