The Evolving Landscape of Influenza Immunizations - Episode 1

Prevalence of COVID-19 Affecting Perception of Vaccines

A panel of experts open a discussion surrounding influenza vaccines amid patient vaccine hesitancy.

Mitchel Rothholz, RPh, MBA: I’m Mitch Rothholz, I have the pleasure of being your moderator for today’s discussion titled, “Around the Practice: The Evolving Landscape of Influenza Immunizations.” With me are 3 experts in the area of pharmacy-based immunizations who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for many years. Let me give a brief introduction before we get into our discussion. With me is John Beckner, the senior director for strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association; Jeff Goad, the associate dean of academic affairs at Chapman University School of Pharmacy; and Randy McDonough, the co-owner of Towncrest Pharmacies, co-owner of Towncrest Compounding Pharmacy, co-owner of Innovative Pharmacy Solutions, and professor of pharmacy at Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us, and let’s start getting into our discussion.

How do we optimize the immunization neighborhood and the value pharmacists bring to our communities? It’s no longer pharmacists proving what they can do; it’s what contributions pharmacy can make to improving the public’s health and our communities’ health as we work through these infectious diseases.

In your opinion, how has the prevalence of COVID-19 impacted the public’s understanding and perception of vaccines? Not just COVID-19 vaccines, but other vaccines, specifically influenza vaccines and others recommended across the lifespan. How has COVID-19 impacted our ability to get acceptance and delivery of vaccines?

John Beckner, RPh: I’ll take a stab at it, Mitch. First of all, it’s been a pleasure working with you over the years. We’ve come a long way since pharmacists started administering vaccines back in the mid-1990s. But clearly, the prevalence of COVID-19 has amplified the importance of getting vaccines to prevent disease in the minds of the public. People’s attitudes have changed. They’ve become much more attuned and normalized to getting vaccinated. That being said, there is some concern this year as we head into flu season, with all the noise around boosters there may be a bit of vaccine fatigue going on. Combine that with a light flu season last year, there may be some concerns as we head into influenza season.

Jeff Goad, PharmD, MPH: Yes, I agree with John. We have headwinds ahead of us. Public perception or opinion of COVID-19 vaccination has gone up and down with the phases, not necessarily with the waves of COVID-19. As fast as the virus seems to mutate, so does the perception of the vaccines’ usefulness. What has also dramatically changed is our ability to get real-time, accurate case counts of hospitalization data to use to show the impact of COVID-19 vaccination. We don’t have that same real-time geographic granularity of data reporting with influenza, though. That would be helpful.

A new safe vaccine that was developed at warp speed with the ability to protect more than 90% of recipients should have been received like the polio vaccine of our age, but it got mired in politics and antivaccine misinformation. It’s difficult to estimate the COVID-19 vaccines’ impact on other vaccines, such as influenza. Hopefully it has a positive impact. The jury is still out.

Randy McDonough, PharmD, MS, BCGP, BCPS, FAPhA: Mitch, I agree with everything that both Jeff and John talked about. The thing that’s interesting, John touched on this, is COVID-19 put more of a public focus on vaccinations because everybody was waiting for that COVID-19 [vaccine]. But I also saw that it amplified some of the misperceptions, misunderstandings, and myths associated with vaccines. Then as we start talking about mandates vs no mandates and whether people should be forced to get the shot, that had more pushback. It’s really interesting for me to see that. Going into this flu season, my concern is that because we didn’t see a hard flu season [in 2021], probably because we had preventive measures that were taking place during that time, people might get lackadaisical.

We had a clinical meeting today and said we have to make sure that when the patient is in front of us, that we fully educate them about the importance of getting both shots—if they’re getting the booster, also getting the influenza vaccine—but also taking our time to look at the state registries to identify the gaps they might have and educate the patient about the importance of getting all vaccines up to date as soon as possible.

Transcript edited for clarity.