NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Researchers have found a community-based influenza outreach program successful in generating interest in flu vaccination among hard-to-reach urban populations such as drug abusers, undocumented immigrants, homeless persons, prostitutes and the homebound elderly.
"In pandemic situations, gaining access to hard-to-reach populations for immunization could be particularly challenging," the study team notes in the latest issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
"Unvaccinated populations may serve as undetected reservoirs of infection and key bridge populations, thereby limiting the effectiveness of population-wide vaccination efforts," Dr. Sandro Galeo, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and colleagues point out.
Hard-to-reach or disadvantaged populations often do not routinely access health care or have a regular doctor, the team notes. The program they developed bypasses traditional modes of health care delivery, instead offering informational flyers and flu shots door-to-door and in street-based settings.
Galeo and the project team implemented the program in East Harlem and the Bronx in New York City during two recent flu seasons. They found that before the program, about 80 percent of those surveyed were interested in getting vaccinated against flu; this went up to 94 percent after the outreach effort.
People who had been vaccinated in the past and those in high-risk groups were much more likely to be interested in receiving a flu shot.
The researchers conclude that novel initiatives such as the one they developed "may hold promise in increasing vaccination rates among hard-to-reach populations, especially in an era of vaccine shortages and threats of an influenza pandemic."
SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, July 2008.