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Texting May Help More Kids Get Flu Shots

Novel way of sending reminders to families linked to more vaccinations: study

TUESDAY, April 24, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Sending text message reminders to parents improves the rate of flu vaccination among low-income children and teens in cities, researchers have found.

The new study, published in the April 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, included more than 7,500 children and teens aged 6 months to 18 years who were receiving care at four community-based clinics in the United States during the 2010-2011 flu season, and had not received a flu vaccination.

The study participants were primarily from minority groups, 88 percent were publicly insured and 58 percent were from Spanish-speaking families.

The children and their parents were randomly divided into usual care and intervention groups. Parents in both groups received automated telephone reminders and access to informational flyers posted at the study site. The parents in the intervention group also received up to five weekly text messages providing information about flu vaccination and instructions about Saturday clinics.

As of March 31, 2011, nearly 44 percent of the children in the intervention group had received the flu vaccine, compared with just under 40 percent of those in the usual care group.

Flu vaccine coverage among U.S. children is low, the study authors noted in a journal news release. Only 51 percent of children and teens aged 6 months to 17 years received the flu vaccine in the 2010-2011 season.

"Coverage is lower in low-income populations who are at higher risk of influenza spread due to crowded living conditions," Dr. Melissa Stockwell, of Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues wrote in the report. "Traditional vaccine reminders have had a limited effect on low-income populations; however, text messaging is a novel, scalable approach to promote influenza vaccination."

The researchers added that the use of "text messaging (especially when linked with electronic health records or registries) to identify and notify large patient populations in need of vaccination could be an efficient means for improving influenza vaccination rates in adults as well as children and adolescents."

Children and teenagers from 6 months to 18 years of age are at greater risk than some other age groups for flu-related illness and death.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about children, the flu and flu vaccination.

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, news release, April 24, 2012
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