Although vaccines have played an essential role in infectious disease prevention in the United States, the acceptance and administration for many vaccines is still suboptimal. With the COVID-19 pandemic projected to overlap with this year’s flu season, the uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine will be even more crucial as we continue to grapple with increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Aaron Scherer, PhD, associate in General Internal Medicine, recently received two grants that will help identify and address patient and health care provider barriers to a variety of immunization-related issues. The first is a five-year, K01 career development award from the NIH’s National Institute of Aging (NIA) and the other is a five-year, $2.5M U01 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Prior research has demonstrated that providing information to correct vaccine misperceptions might successfully correct those misperceptions, but it also often ‘backfires’ and produces increased resistance to getting vaccinated in adults with negative vaccine attitudes,” Scherer said. “My K01 award is focused on improving seasonal flu vaccine uptake in adults aged 50 years and older by working with vaccine-hesitant adults in this age range to create novel vaccine messaging that targets the psychological needs associated with non-vaccination.”
In any other year, the results from Scherer’s study would be of sizable benefit, but in a year when one vaccine in particular will need widespread public adoption, his insights will be of critical importance. The CDC reports that adults aged more than 65 years make up about 70 to 85 percent of the deaths caused by influenza. Similar numbers are reflected in the CDC’s COVID-19 data, with older adults accounting for 8 out of 10 reported COVID-19 deaths. Scherer’s mentor team on this grant is composed of Heather Reisinger, PhD, his primary mentor; Michelle Mengeling, PhD; Marianne Smith, PhD, RN, UI’s College of Nursing; and Angela Fagerlin, PhD, Chair of Population Health Sciences at the University of Utah.
With his CDC grant, Scherer and a team of collaborators will work with the CDC to survey primary care providers and the general public every 3 to 4 months on important immunization-related issues. The information obtained by these online opt-in and computer-assisted surveys are often presented to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the national group responsible for developing vaccine recommendations for the general public, to help guide their recommendations. In addition to working with the CDC, Scherer’s research team includes the College of Public Health’s Christine Petersen, PhD, and Natoshia Askelson, PhD, as well as RAND Corp’s Courtney Gidengil, MD, MPH, and Andrew Parker, PhD. This project will also receive survey and statistical support from the Iowa Social Science Research Center.