Young children need two doses of influenza vaccine during flu season to protect them against the virus. However, less than half of those who receive the first dose return to receive the second dose. But, new research shows that sending text message reminders both increased receipt of the second dose of the vaccine by the end of the season as well as brought children in sooner to be vaccinated.

Researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center found that when educational information on the importance of the second dose of influenza vaccine was embedded into text messages there was an even greater effect compared both with conventional text messages that only told families when and where to go as well as with written reminder only.

A randomized controlled trial was conducted during the 2012-2013 influenza season in three community-based pediatric clinics, affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in Northern Manhattan. Children in 660 families were in need of a second dose of influenza vaccine that season took part in the intervention.

Children ranging in age from 6 months through 8 years were assigned into one of three groups: “educational” text message, “conventional” text message, and “written reminder-only” arms. All families had a cell phone with text messaging capabilities. A written reminder with next dose due date was given at the time of the child’s first influenza vaccination to all families.

The results showed that children in the educational text message reminder group were significantly more likely to receive a second dose of influenza vaccine (72.7 percent) than both those in the conventional text message reminder group (66.7 percent) and written reminder-only group (57.1 percent).

Parents indicated that they liked the text messages and saw them as helpful because they acted as a reminder, provided information in a quick way that did not require talking with anyone, and demonstrated someone “cared.” Nearly two-thirds (60.8 percent) of parents reported the reminder was either the main reason or part of the reason they brought their child for a second dose, and 70.1 percent said that it affected bringing their child sooner.

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