Text Messaging Reminders for Flu Vaccinations Get Results

Text messaging is so common that many of us take it for granted.  Now, this technology is providing a new way to save a child’s life.  One American doctor has tested the use of text messaging as a way of reminding parents to get their children vaccinated against influenza -- a potentially fatal disease. The World Health Organization says that influenza, or flu, causes up to half a million deaths every year.  It’s particularly dangerous for children under the age of 5.

In a world of seven billion people, communications industry records show that nearly six billion of us have access to a cell phone. In developing countries, health care workers in rural areas use mobile phones to connect with doctors and get instructions on patient care.

US researchers wondered if using a cell phone to text vaccination reminders to parents would result in more children being protected from the flu virus -- and in fewer hospitalizations.

“We wanted to know whether children of parents who were sent text messages would be more likely to receive an influenza vaccination than those who weren’t texted,” Dr. Melissa Stockwell said.

Dr. Stockwell led a randomized trial involving more than 9,000 children and teenagers under the age of 18. One group of parents received only automated telephone reminders and were told how to access informational flyers about the flu. The other group received text messages telling them about the virus and vaccine safety -- plus reminders to get their children vaccinated.

In the text messages, Dr. Stockwell wanted to clear up some common misperceptions about the virus. “Many people think that the flu is just a bad cold or they think that they or their child aren’t at risk for the flu,” she stated.

Dr. Stockwell texted parents in the second group in the fall -- before the flu season started -- and again in the spring -- to find out how many of the children had been vaccinated. She found that parents who received text messages were more likely to get their children immunized than parents who only got the automated phone calls.

Although the difference in vaccination rates between the two groups was small, researchers found the results promising. They say if texting is used across the country, the end result could be fewer hospitalizations and two and a half million healthier kids.  

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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