The study entitled ‘Strategies to increase influenza vaccination rates: outcomes of a nationwide cross-sectional survey of UK general practice‘ was led by Dr Laura Dexter, virologist, while based in Sheffield University under Prof Robert Read with collaboration from Niro Siriwardena at the University of Lincoln.
The study was funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme to determine how to improve flu vaccination rates in at-risk groups in the UK. Flu vaccine uptake is below the national and international target of 75% particularly in the under 65-year-old age group. This study used an online survey to GPs, nurses and practice managers to identify which strategies and procedures reported were associated with higher rates of flu vaccine uptake. The recommendations have been summarised in annual guidance in the seasonal flu plan (Annex B – GP practice checklist p11-12) from the UK Chief Medical Officer, Dame Professor Sally Davies.
The study builds on previous work led by Niro Siriwardena on methods to improve influenza and pneumococcal vaccination rates in primary care and in general practice in Lincolnshire which led to a definitive cluster randomised controlled study of an educational intervention for general practice. The Community and Health Research Group are also working on the role of influenza vaccination in preventing cardiovascular disease. After studies showing a reduction in risk of heart attack linked to influenza vaccination (published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and Vaccine) the team are now working on a case-control study to investigate potential role for influenza and/or pneumococcal vaccination in prevention against stroke and transient ischaemic attack (IPVASTIA), funded by the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit programme.
The new study in BMJ Open has identified seven key strategies that were significantly associated with the success of practices’ seasonal flu vaccination campaigns which include leadership (a named responsible flu lead), ordering sufficient vaccines, up-to-date registers of patients at risk, starting the programme early, robust call and recall arrangements, offering appointments and opportunistically vaccination, and working with community midwives for vaccination in pregnancy. If widely implemented by general practices, these strategies could improve vaccination rates by 7% to 8%. The learning has been publicised in professional magazines and translated into an online learning module for GPs which is having impact on professional practice.