Giving influenza vaccination a boost among older people

October marks the beginning of a new influenza season. While influenza is generally a mild and uncomplicated disease, in older people, as well as in pregnant women, young children and people with chronic diseases, influenza can cause severe disease leading to hospitalization and occasionally death.

In 2017, WHO is supporting influenza vaccination campaigns taking place in over 10 countries across the WHO European Region.

Influenza vaccination for older people remains low in the Region

Older people have a higher risk of severe disease and death than any other age group. They account for over 90% of all influenza-associated deaths. They are more likely to be hospitalized due to influenza and take a long time to recover from the disease.

For these reasons, WHO recommends that at least 75% of older people get vaccinated against influenza every year before the season begins. Most European countries have adopted this recommendation and aim to reach this level of vaccination coverage. However, in half of the countries in the Region fewer than 1 in 3 older people actually get vaccinated.

Effective interventions exist to increase vaccination among older people

A number of interventions can be effective in increasing influenza vaccination coverage among older people. These include reminders through personalized postcards, phone calls and home visits.

Understanding barriers to vaccination at different levels of the health-care systems is also critical to increasing vaccination coverage among older people and other risk groups. This includes:

  • the individual level (vaccine recipients)
  • the health-care provider level (health workers that offer vaccination)
  • the policy level (where interventions should be developed and tailored to address the barriers).

Sometimes, a combination of traditional and more unusual approaches can help boost influenza vaccination, as demonstrated by an original campaign conducted in Sweden’s county of Jönköping (see link below).