Pharmacists Lead the Fight Against Declining Flu Vaccination Rates

Total Pharmacy JournalTotal Pharmacy June 2024
Volume 02
Issue 03

In an attempt to promote flu vaccination, Kristen Thorson, PharmD, encourages pharmacists to “know the power of their recommendation.”

Although some people dismiss the flu as a bad cold, the true medical, economical, and societal burden of influenza can be devastating, Kristen Thorson, PharmD, medical values and outcomes director at Sanofi, explained at the Spring 2024 Total Pharmacy Solutions Summit on April 13. The virus can wreak havoc on vital organs, including the brain, heart, and lungs. For older adults, the risk is even greater, as this population is susceptible to severe outcomes such as stroke, heart attack, and loss of independence. Fortunately, influenza vaccination remains an important tool for prevention. Pharmacists play essential roles in promoting immunization and protecting the public from unanticipated adverse events associated with infection.

Influenza can wreak havoc on vital organs, including the brain, heart, and lungs. | image credit: PhotobyTawat /

Influenza can wreak havoc on vital organs, including the brain, heart, and lungs. | image credit: PhotobyTawat /

Read on for Some Key Takeaways from Thorson’s Presentation:

  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, flu vaccine coverage rates were increasing each year, but flu vaccination coverage rates in all age groups have declined since the public health emergency. The 2022-2023 flu season witnessed a new overall flu vaccine coverage rate of 40%.
  • From a medical perspective, the burden of influenza is great. The condition can exacerbate chronic cardiovascular, pulmonary, and metabolic diseases, but the public health impact of influenza is vastly underrecognized.
  • Adults aged 40 years and older have an increased risk of stroke and heart attack in the days following flu infection, thought to be caused by systemic inflammation from viral infection that can lead to the disruption of sclerotic plaques and trigger both cerebrovascular and cardiovascular events.
  • Approximately 1 in 4 older adults who experience flu infection have loss of independence after infection and do not return to their baseline ability to perform activities of daily living.
  • Influenza vaccination remains an important tool for prevention of potentially serious flu illness, and there are a variety of flu technologies and vaccines available in the United States with different manufacturing technologies (egg based, recombinant, messenger RNA) and antigen content (standard dose, high dose).
  • The most reliable way to assess vaccine efficacy is through a randomized controlled trial. Observational studies can support findings in real-world settings.
  • The way flu vaccine evidence is generated is just as important as the way outcomes are assessed; studies should assess flu vaccine effectiveness in preventing complications and hospitalizations, not just cases of infection.
  • Age can influence vaccine effectiveness. A randomized controlled trial showed a high-dose flu vaccine to be 24.2% more effective than standard dose-vaccine in preventing flu in adults 65 years and older.
  • Because of their knowledge of medication and chronic conditions among patients they serve, as well as their accessibility, pharmacists are uniquely positioned as immunizers to promote flu vaccination.

In response to dwindling flu vaccination rates and the potentially devastating burden of the condition, Thorson urges pharmacists to think back to COVID-19 pandemic immunization efforts and “know the power of their recommendation,” to protect the public from influenza. Leveraging their trusted role and medical expertise, pharmacists can significantly improve vaccination rates and safeguard public health. “Overall, pharmacists have been huge in vaccination efforts through and since the [COVID-19] pandemic, and I ask for everybody’s assistance and continued work on raising overall flu vaccination coverage rates.”

READ MORE: Moderna: Combination COVID-19–Flu Vaccine Trial Meets Primary Endpoints

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