Understanding influenza vaccine perspectives and hesitancy in university students to promote increased vaccine uptake

Heliyon. 2019 Oct 12;5(10):e02604. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02604. eCollection 2019 Oct.


Introduction: Influenza vaccine hesitancy is a global barrier to controlling seasonal influenza. Influenza vaccination rates in university students lag behind current goals and pose a significant threat to the health of students on campuses. A broader understanding of the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs of university students are needed to develop targeted interventions to increase vaccination.

Methods: An anonymous cross-sectional survey was developed and distributed via REDCap to graduate and undergraduate students via individual college listservs at a large public university. Survey questions included demographic information and questions about vaccination history, preference for vaccine type (inactivated vaccine (IIV) or live attenuated vaccine (LAIV), knowledge of influenza vaccines, reasons for accepting or refusing vaccine and preference for receiving vaccine information and education.

Results: Students in 14 colleges received the survey and 1039 respondents were included in analysis. Sixty two percent reported having been vaccinated for influenza and of those vaccinated most were in health-related fields that require vaccination. Graduate and vaccinated students were more knowledgeable about influenza; undergraduates had lower vaccination rates. Students preferred IIV over LAIV and were more knowledgeable about IIV. Those with history of vaccination during childhood had higher rates of vaccination. Twenty six percent overall and 41.6% of the unvaccinated still believed you could get the flu from the flu vaccine. Fear of needles and inconvenience were cited as major reasons for not getting vaccinated. Incentives were cited as important motivators by only 20%. Students preferred to receive vaccine information from medical providers followed by online information and campus events.

Conclusions: A multipronged approach to increasing influenza vaccination of university students will be needed. Myths about influenza vaccine persist even in a relatively educated population. Programs will need to target undergraduate and students in non health-related fields, offer vaccine choices - IIV and LAIV and promote vaccination through medical providers and online information.

Keywords: Infectious disease; Influenza; Public health; University students; Vaccine hesitancy; Vaccines.